WASHINGTON — Federal health agencies should state publicly that the burden of enforcing mask requirements should not be placed on businesses and their employees, convenience and fuel retailing groups EMA, NACS, NATSO and SIGMA, along with other retail groups, said in an Aug. 3 letter to top government officials.
Requiring retail employees, who are trained not to confront shoplifters and to focus on the safety and well-being of employees and customers, to enforce mask mandates “put employees in perilous situations as mask wearing became a heated and politicized issue,” the groups said in the letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Acting Assistant Secretary James Frederick and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky.
The associations sent the letter as some state and local governments reinstate mask mandates. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards reissued an indoor mask mandate statewide Aug. 2 after dropping it several months ago. This marks one of the first states to do so amid a surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the United States linked to the COVID delta variant.
Nevada reinstated a mask mandate indoors regardless of vaccination for counties and cities in the state with high transmission rates. Additionally, some counties and cities have also reinstated mask mandates including Los Angeles County, San Francisco, New Orleans, St. Louis and Atlanta.
The CDC recently updated its mask guidance and now recommends that people, regardless of vaccination status, wear face masks indoors again in certain situations.
The groups are requesting clarification on the mask guidance and reiterated that the enforcement burden should not be placed on retail employees.
The letter asks the agencies “to prioritize the safety of our employees and clarify that businesses should not be the enforcers of mask wearing.” The letter pointed out how embattled frontline retail employees have been during the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to serve the public with food, fuel and other necessities. When some localities put the onus of mask enforcement on retailers, many confrontations became heated and physical, including several deaths related to mask enforcement.
“Preserving the safety and well-being of retail employees is imperative,” NACS wrote in the joint letter. “Store employees are not prepared to enforce health restrictions. Requiring them to do so presents the potential for confrontations fueled by anger that can turn violent quickly. That is not worth the risk. While state and local governments pass and enforce their own policies, we urge you to lead on this worker safety issue by publicly stating that in jurisdictions that decide to require masks, the burden of enforcement should not be placed on businesses and their employees.”
Joining the Energy Marketers of America (EMA), the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA) were the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the International Franchise Association (IFA), the National Grocers Association (NGA) and the National Retail Federation (NRF).
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