CONCORD, NH — One of the region's largest grocery store chains will require masks or face coverings to be worn in all its stores by both customers and employees beginning Monday.
The Market Basket chain, with 81 locations in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, notified customers of the mandatory face covering requirement on signs on the doors of stores this week. The signs said the requirement was being instituted to "promote customer and associate wellness." Free masks will be available to shoppers at the customer service desk.
It is unknown exactly when Market Basket decided to institute the requirement. There were no notices on its social media sites and the company was not available by phone or email at post time — just the signs on stores.
A store manager at one of the Concord locations made the announcement over the store's intercom system Saturday morning. Employees said privately the company did not want to see an increase in cases that some states across the nation were seeing.
"Let's not bring it here," one clerk noted with a laugh while another said most customers were wearing them anyway.
The decision to enforce a mask requirement at New Hampshire stores is not strange since other retailers were instituting the requirement, there is potential liability that may come down the road to retailers that don't protect their employees, and the spread going on nationally right now is unprecedented.
At the same time, the requirement is odd because the state has fewer than 580 active cases of COVID-19 — the lowest number of active cases since early April. As well, case numbers in the state have been on a steady decline since the height of the infection crisis in late April and early May.
Even after more than month of being in a Safer At Home Advisory, daily positive counts have rarely been more than two dozen per day — and percent of specimen positive cases has been 5 percent or less every day during the same time period, while thousands of people are being tested every day.
Gov. Chris Sununu and state health officials have also stated repeatedly at press conferences that there have been no outbreaks connected to the loosening of the stay-at-home provisions, at beaches, at vacation or tourism spots, or protests and rallies — where people have often not been wearing face coverings. In other words, while there are a lot of unknowns with the new coronavirus, there does not appear to be a great danger of catching it right now in the Granite State.
That does not, however, change the need for asymptomatic people to wear face coverings to protect others from infection. And a number of other stores, not just Market Basket, are also making Monday the day to begin wearing face coverings in their stores.
Walmart will require masks at all its locations, including Sam's Club, Monday. The company announced the requirement Wednesday, according to a corporate press statement.
Chuck Carson, a customer host who works at the Concord Walmart, posted a note on Next Door informing the community about the change.
"There is a tent set up at the end of the barriers at the grocery entrance," he said. "And starting on Monday morning an associate will be standing under the tent offering masks to any customers and/or family members who aren't wearing a mask. I am not sure if customers will be asked to leave if they refuse to take the masks being offered … Please understand that this (is) for you and your family's safety and well-being as well as the safety and well-being of others and for the associates as well. Your cooperation in this matter is deeply appreciated."
The Concord Walmart is also returning to a single entrance at the store — as it did during the height of the pandemic, to ensure face coverings are being worn by all customers.
On Thursday, CVS also notified its customers on its corporate site that it would be instituting a mask requirement Monday, too.
Target will be implementing a mask requirement for all customers Aug. 1.
Best Buy announced its mandate on July 14 while Starbucks issued a notice July 15. Dollar Tree made the requirement mandatory July 8.
Most of the stores said PPE would be available to customers if they did not have their own face coverings.
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