Mandate mania: Vaccines for employees, face masks for retail customers

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Two of the biggest employers in the United States are now requiring employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and they are changing their face mask policies. Walmart and the Walt Disney Company announced Friday that nearly every employee will be mandated to be vaccinated or find employment elsewhere. These announcements follow many other large corporations making the decision to require employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.

Walmart has set a policy that all employees at its headquarters and managers who travel within the United States must be vaccinated by early October. A company spokesman said that Walmart hopes this will encourage store employees to get vaccinated, too. Walmart is also reversing its policy on face masks for employees in its stores, distribution facilities, and warehouses. In May it was announced that fully vaccinated employees could work without masks. Now they will be required to do so in areas with high infection rates, vaccinated or not.

As for customers, Walmart is bringing back its signs at store entrances encouraging them to wear masks. Instead of store greeters at the entrance, there will be health ambassadors who will hand out masks.

The Walt Disney Company is going the same way. Salaried and non-union hourly employees will have 60 days to get vaccinated. New hires will be required to be fully vaccinated.

“Employees who aren’t already vaccinated and are working on-site will have 60 days from today to complete their protocols and any employees still working from home will need to provide verification of vaccination prior to their return, with certain limited exceptions,” according to the statement.

The company added that it also started conversations with union leaders representing employees over COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Vaccines are the best tool we all have to help control this global pandemic and protect our employees,” Disney said. The international family entertainment and media enterprise has about 203,000 employees and is headquartered in Burbank, California.

The reversal in mask policy for some companies is in response to the confusing messaging coming from CDC and the White House. The constant flip-flopping between pleas for everyone to wear a mask is frustrating for everyone. First, we were told to not buy and wear masks, then we were told to wear them. Once people began getting vaccinated, one incentive to get vaccinated was that masks wouldn’t be needed anymore. Now we’re told that due to highly contagious variants, like the Delta variant, people are being infected even if they’ve been vaccinated and mask up. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky now advises people, even vaccinated people, to wear masks in areas with high infection rates.

New research into outbreaks from several states and other countries “indicate[s] that on rare occasions some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others.” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, told reporters on a call.

The research indicates that vaccinated people who contract the Delta variant have the same viral load, or amount of virus, as unvaccinated people, and that vaccinated people can transmit the variant.

“This new science is worrisome and warrants an update to our recommendations,” Walensky said.

What is “worrisome” to most people, though, is the constant alarm being sounded over variants and the inept messaging that goes with the discovery of them. People are pandemic-weary. Masks have proven ineffective in most cases, as people use disposable paper masks and cloth masks that provide minimum protection. Vaccines are very successful in protecting people but they do not alleviate the presence of the coronavirus. We have to learn to live with it, as we do with other viruses.

Big tech companies are requiring employees to be vaccinated. Facebook and Google are requiring employees to get vaccinated before returning to working in their offices. Private employees can require employees to be vaccinated. Job seekers will act accordingly. If an applicant is not willing to be vaccinated, that is a personal decision. The same is true for shoppers. Retail stores bringing back mask mandates for customers, or those who never ended them, may see a drop in business as we go forward. Customers who are not willing to mask up anymore will take their business elsewhere.

Dr. Francis Collins, NIH Director, is making appearances on some Sunday morning political shows today. The Biden administration has its hair on fire over begging people to get vaccinated. A plateau and then drop of those getting vaccinated alarmed them. It looked like everyone who planned to get vaccinated had already done so or was in process of doing so. Now there is a slight uptick in vaccinations being administered. Collins pointed to Louisiana as an example. That state was at the bottom of the list of vaccinated rates and now there has been an increase of about 50% in the last two weeks. He is big on face masks and encourages people to continue to wear them.

Kroger is a major grocery retailer that is asking customers and employees to wear masks. Publix is requiring masks for everyone, vaccinated or not, by August 2.

Kroger is now “strongly” encouraging all individuals, including those who are vaccinated, to wear a mask when in its stores and facilities, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based supermarket operator said Friday, citing updated recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Previously, Kroger had required unvaccinated employees wear masks and requested that unvaccinated shoppers do the same.

“We will continue to abide by all state and local mandates and encourage all Americans to get vaccinated, including our associates,” the company said in an emailed statement. Kroger, the nation’s largest grocer, operates nearly 2,800 stores in 35 states.

We have to learn to live with the coronavirus. People cannot be expected to wear a face mask in public indefinitely. Requiring that masks be worn dilutes the message of the success of the vaccines. What the CDC and the Biden White House need most of all are competent messengers.