Michigan Coronavirus: Masks required in stores, but enforce causes issues

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BYRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order calling on stores to require customers to wear masks went into effect Monday.

The mandate sounds simple enough: “Any individual able to medically tolerate a face covering must wear a covering over his or her nose and mouth — such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana, or handkerchief — when in any enclosed public space.” But it has proven tricky for retailers.

“It used to be no shirt, no shoes, no service. Well now, it might be no mask, no service,” Meegan Holland, vice president for communication for Lansing-based Michigan Retailers Association, said.

Stores have been working to comply. Some, like SpartanNash stores Family Fare and D&W, had signs up first thing Monday morning.

“We have signage. We have a letter going out today from our CEO to all of our retail guests. We are posting this on our social media,” listed Meredith Gremel, SpartanNash’s vice president for corporate affairs.

SpartanNash also just began requiring employees at all levels to wear a mask — whether they work in a store, driving a truck or in a warehouse or corporate headquarters.

“Beginning Sunday, it was a requirement. We used to strongly encourage that they wear the masks,” Gremel said, adding that the corporation was only recently able to get all the masks it needs. “One of the reasons we weren’t mandating masks prior to was we simply didn’t have the masks to give them, so we had mask-making contests.”

Meijer stores did not have signs up in the morning, though a spokesperson said they would be going up later in the day.

An associate could be seen at the front of a Target in metro Grand Rapids reminding people to wear a mask and they have masks for sale.

No stores News 8 spoke with are kicking people out for not wearing a mask.

“We’re not going to go directly up to a customer who may have a medical reason for not wearing a mask and ask them about that,” Gremel said. “When people come in and they see the signs on the store doors, we’re hoping they’re taking this, COVID, as seriously as we are.”

The part of the mandate that exempts those who are medically unable to tolerate a mask makes things murky.

“It’s a tough one because there is a loophole for medical reasons … so you don’t know if that’s the case when a customer walks into your store without a mask.” Holland said. “It’s often awkward and sometimes dangerous to confront customers who come into your store and they’re just defiant about not wearing a mask.”

There is also the question of availability. Faces masks are still not easy to find in large quantities. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel addressed that in a statement over the weekend, calling on law enforcement to give stores time to comply.

“Some local law enforcement is more relaxed in how they approach what’s happening in local retail right now but other counties have been a little more strict,” Holland said. “We were very relieved when the attorney general put out her statement encouraging law enforcement to give stores a break for a while as they try to find masks.”

Gremel said customers will also self-police in the stores and on social media, getting the message to their friends and family.

“We have seen a great increase in the number of people shopping in masks just in the last few days,” Gremel said. “It’s really for the best interest of everybody in our community that we adhere to these guidelines.”

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