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Businesses continue with mask requirements despite states lifting mandates

By CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Even as some states ease or end mask mandates, a handful of businesses say they will still require customers and staff to wear face coverings as the pandemic continues.

The governors of Texas and Mississippi announced earlier this week that they were fully lifting mask mandates in their states. Texas’ mandate lifts on March 10, and Mississippi ended its mandate as of Wednesday.

The moves drew ire from health officials and even President Joe Biden, who blasted the decisions as “Neanderthal thinking” amid the ongoing pandemic.

Despite the shift in rules from the government, many firms in the private sector have said they will still require their customers and staff to wear masks while at their businesses.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, defended businesses’ decisions to require masks even if state or local governments are rolling back requirements.

“Retail stores are private entities. If they require you to wear a mask in their stores, and you choose not to, that store can refuse admission or service,” NRF Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Bill Thorne said in a statement. “It is within their right to implement and enforce policies that protect the health and the safety of their employees and their customers.”

Thorne lamented how many states and municipalities throughout the pandemic have mandated masks, “yet have failed to provide any enforcement mechanisms, leaving it up to individual business operators to take steps recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and other health experts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

This issue has led to many businesses facing a tripwire of issues, as some employees are forced to ask customers to wear masks — which have become a political flashpoint in the U.S. — and in some cases, altercations have followed.

“Mandate or not, retailers are on the front lines of the pandemic, safely providing goods and services, and now vaccines, to people across the country,” Thorne said. “This is not due to government mandates; it is because of their proven commitment to do the right thing for their employees and their neighbors in the communities they serve.”

CVS, Starbucks and Target are among the companies that have confirmed to ABC News they still plan to require masks at their businesses in all states.

CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis told ABC News that its face covering policy, implemented in July of last year, remains in effect nationwide based on federal public health recommendations.

“If a customer is not wearing a mask or face covering, we will refer them to our signage and ask that they help protect themselves and those around them by listening to the experts and heeding the call to wear a face covering,” DeAngelis said via email. “For safety reasons, our employees are directed to avoid escalated confrontations with non-compliant customers, and to instead help them complete their purchases as quickly as possible.”

Starbucks’ Jory Mendes told ABC News that the company “continues to focus on prioritizing the health and well-being of our partners and communities we serve, supporting health authorities and government officials as they work to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

“Based on guidance from the CDC and other public health experts, Starbucks will continue to require all partners and customers to wear a mask while inside our stores — continuing with the requirement we instituted in July 2020,” Mendes added. “We will continue to make decisions rooted in facts and science, and are committed to meeting or exceeding public health mandates.”

A Target spokesperson similarly told ABC News Thursday they “require guests to wear masks or face coverings in all of our stores, except for guests with underlying medical conditions and young children.”

“We also require all store team members to wear masks at work and have provided them with reusable and disposable masks,” Target’s spokesperson added. “Those who have been vaccinated for coronavirus are still required to wear a mask and follow all social distancing guidelines, in line with current CDC guidance.”

Target said to aid customers, it is providing disposable masks at store entrances, reminding guests to wear signs via signage and audio messages, and guiding guests who don’t want to wear masks to shop via various no-contact options including Target.com, Shipt and Drive Up.

Health officials have implored Americans to wear a mask during the pandemic for months now, citing studies that indicate mask-wearing can significantly reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

The CDC’s then-director Robert Redfield said during a testimony before lawmakers last September that he “might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”

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