By Brandon Martin
Wearing face masks has been one of the more touted countermeasures against the current coronavirus pandemic but that doesn’t mean that everyone is following the guidelines.
In fact, one growing trend on the internet has been videos of confrontations between individuals in grocery stores over the issue. Some claim individual freedom and others claim health issues prevent wearing a face mask. In lieu of federal mandates, some companies have changed their policies to create a more uniform shopping experience for all in their stores.
Walmart announced a policy, to take effect July 20, requiring all customers to don a mask to shop at their stores and Sam’s Club affiliates. John Wilson, a company representative at the Walmart in Stuart, declined to comment on the Policy and referred questions to the company’s corporate team.
According to a July 15 joint statement by Dacona Smith, chief operating officer for Walmart U.S., and Lance de la Rosa, chief operating officer for Sam’s Club, “Walmart has created the role of Health Ambassador and will station them near the entrance to remind those without a mask of our new requirements. Our ambassadors will receive special training to help make the process as smooth as possible for customers.”
The ambassadors will be recognizable by their black polo shirts, according to the statement. They will assist customers that approach the store without a facemask in order to find a solution.
A company representative from the Walmart in Martinsville, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that customers are asked to wear masks, but “if they have a health issue then we can’t make them wear a mask and because of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act), we can’t make them tell us what condition they have either.” According to a training video for the new Health Ambassador role, customers will still be able to gain access to the store without wearing a mask.
When approached by a customer without a mask, the video recommends that ambassadors remember three things. “In every situation: Stay calm. Listen intently. Show understanding.” The video notes that customers may not wear a mask for a variety of reasons, naming age, health and religion as possible exceptions.
If one of these reasons isn’t listed, the video recommends that the ambassador still allow the customer to enter the store and “make management aware so that they can determine the next steps.”
The ambassador is advised not to attempt to block the customer or ask any further questions
about the customer’s refusal to wear a mask. “Never engage with a customer physically,” the video said. “Do not block their entrance or attempt to stop them. Never ask a customer to explain their health condition, religious reason or any other reason they give for not wearing a face mask.”
In a recent 15-minute time frame at the Walmart in Martinsville, 11 of 42 individuals observed entering the store did not wear a mask. Only two of the 11 appeared to be minor children, who are traditionally exempt from facemask regulations.
As of July 27, Henry County had 434 cases of the coronavirus and the City of Martinsville had
149 cases. Patrick County had 99 cases.