When Anna Cerrillos and her husband Jamie Cerrillos visited Kroger on South Erie Boulevard Thursday morning, they shopped for enough groceries to last their three-person household at least 10 days to lessen shopping trips.
As the couple put bags into their minivan, she wore a mask, but he didn’t. That’s because only she had gone into the store to help lessen spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
Both said they wished everyone would wear face masks or other facial protection inside stores, but that was not the case in the Kroger and other stores across the region this week, even after Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday declared a new policy that customers and store employees would have to wear masks.
On Tuesday, DeWine backed away from that policy for customers — but not for store employees, except in limited cases.
For customers, face coverings are “strongly recommended,” DeWine said. But they’re still mandated for store employees “unless not advisable by a healthcare professional,” if it “goes against industry best practices, or is not permitted by federal or state laws and regulations,” according to a clarification by the governor’s office.
The governor said he made the change after hearing from some who were offended by mask-wearing. Some African-Americans expressed concerns about being racially profiled while wearing masks.
DeWine would have been disappointed with what he saw inside area stores late this week, after his mask-wearing recommendations.
Some store employees wore masks around their necks, hanging below their chins. Others wore masks so low their entire mouth was showing. Still, others had masks below their noses. Some store employees, and some beverage-company employees placing products inside the stores, wore no masks. About half, if that many, of store customers wore masks.
Seeking disease protection
Jamie Cerrillos said he believes everybody in stores should wear them “because it’s more secure for everybody, for children especially.”
People wearing masks provide protection not just for themselves, but for those the mask-wearers come in contact, said Anna Cerrillos: “You may look healthy, but you don’t know if you are sick and (when) you are in the store you spread the virus.”
On the other side of the issue is Chrissy Hollandsworth, 42, of Fairfield Twp., who said, “I just don’t wear one,” as she entered the same Kroger store as the Cerrillos. “I’m not scared.”
On the other hand, if the governor required customers wear masks in stores, “Then I’ll have to wear one,” she said.
Wanting more clarity of rules
At Al Couch’s Market in St. Clair Twp., which calls itself “The Biggest Little Store in Butler County,” owner Gary Couch on Wednesday was still waiting to hear a definitive declaration from the state, and was frustrated things were changing.
He said he didn’t understand why stores like his were allowed to be open without masks, but as the state now is preparing to allow more businesses to reopen, masks now are being required.
“My thought is give us a line, and let’s follow it,” he said. “Don’t keep juttering off because somebody caused a problem. I know it’s new and we don’t know what to do, but we go wide swings. We don’t just go a little off the line, we go way out of the line — from not wearing them at all, it’s useless to wear them in public, I’m going to make it mandatory to wear them in public,” Couch said. “But the governor realized immediately that wasn’t going to work.”
Whatever is mandated, “my employees will do exactly what’s mandated,” Couch said. “I’m not going against the governor. I’m not trying to be a rebel.”
Part of the reason for the change is that health officials have learned more about how the airborne disease spreads. Initially, Hamilton Health Commissioner Kay Farrar and others recommended against using masks, particularly the N-95 masks, so they would be available to doctors, paramedics and other medical professionals.
Seeing a discomfort
Couch has seen worry on some customers’ faces.
“A prime example, was the other day, I shouldn’t say elderly, I’m 68, but there was a couple that was probably more mature than myself, and I saw they had a heavy bag in their cart, and I said, ‘Can I load that for you?’ and I had no mask on, I had been working out in the greenhouse.”
“And they said, ‘No, we’re fine.’”
“I said, ‘I certainly don’t mind loading it real quick.’”
They still said they were fine.
“So I went back in the store, and I watched the man struggle out there,” Couch said. “I put a face mask on and went back out, and he allowed me to load that.”
The only difference was his face mask.
“I think there’s a lot of people, and especially the more elderly, they’re scared, but in their own mind they probably shouldn’t be out shopping, and they are,” Couch said.
What are stores doing?
Here’s a look at what some have said about wearing of masks in Ohio stores:
• Kroger officials say they have provided masks for all store associates, and starting on April 26 they required associates to wear them. They will not require customers, but “will follow the lead of our health department and elected officials on the national, state and local level.”
• Wallmart officials say they will “strongly encourage” customers to respect other patrons and “adhere to the recommendation that we all use face coverings while in public spaces.”
• Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said Monday the requirement of face-mask wearing by customers “was a recommendation out of the business taskforce because they wanted to build that confidence.”