Some retailers, customers unsure of new mask expectations

Published: May. 12, 2020 at 5:53 PM EDT
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Next week, retail stores will be allowed to open for in-person business with a few restrictions, including mandatory masks for employees but not for customers. Our Calvin Cutler shows you how this has reignited the debate over when and where people should have to wear face-coverings.

"If we can limit the spread of things, then we can help the restaurants and the bars and everything back to normal sooner," George Bergin said.

Bergin is an owner of the Beverage Warehouse in Winooski. His business was never required to close. But over the past two months, he's added several ways to keep customers and staff safe from COVID-19.

The Beverage Warehouse is just one business that's taken a proactive approach, making all of its customers wear masks and spraying down their hands with hand sanitizer before they enter the store. They're also limiting how many people can be in the store and are doing business behind custom-made plexiglass barriers.

"The goal here is to keep everyone feeling safe," Bergin said. "Come in, shop, get what you need but feel perfectly safe doing it."

Not all businesses have taken those steps and the state's newest guidance for the reopening of retail stores highlights the inconsistency. Retail workers will be required to wear masks but not their customers.

Gov. Phil Scott is leaning on education and positive peer pressure to improve mask usage.

Retail industry leaders are caught in the middle, walking a fine line between public health and business owners' rights to decide whether they will require masks.

"Retailers across the state don't want to put employees in an uncomfortable situation but we also want customers to appreciate that wearing a mask keeps everyone safe," said Erin Sigrist, the president of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association.

VOSHA’s mandatory training states “Businesses may ask customers to wear face coverings anytime they are on the premises and interacting with employees and other members of the public.”

Some say masks are a must.

"It's too scary, you don't know we have, nobody knows what anyone's carrying, so we want to protect the people around us," said Polly Theriault of Williston.

Others aren't so sure.

"In certain places, I feel like you should wear them like hospitals and that kind of thing, but retail stores, I think it's a personal preference," said Riley McGee of Bristol.

But as thousands of retail businesses are slated to open next week, Bergin hopes the safety precautions he's put into place can be used as a model for others opening their doors next week looking for guidance.

"I know that it's not mandatory that people wear masks as customers, but as long as it's the recommended guidelines from the governor on down, I think it's something people should be doing," Bergin said.

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