While plenty of Denver area residents continue to ignore advice about wearing facial coverings in public places when they're outside, the overwhelming majority are now doing so when inside stores. Indeed, mask usage at major outlets such as supermarkets is now so close to universal that when people insist on shopping barefaced, they definitely cause a stir — in a very bad way.
We witnessed this phenomenon during a trip to a Jefferson County King Soopers this past weekend, when not one but two anti-maskers gained entry to the outlet at the same time. The pair wandered about for an extended period, seemingly oblivious to the disgusted reactions of their fellow customers.
The result was the equivalent of tossing a stink bomb into a crowd of people and then watching them scatter.
Just last month, a King Soopers spokesperson discussing the COVID-19-related challenges at its Colorado branches (Kroger, which encompasses the King Soopers and City Market brands, tops our updated list of the chains with the most outbreaks), shared a long list of safety protocols with Westword, including a mask requirement for entry. Announcements about this mandate sound over loudspeakers at regular intervals, and patrons unable to wear facial coverings are encouraged to take advantage of the stores' pick-up system, where employees collect items ordered by customers and deliver them to their cars in designated parking places.
On December 6, when we visited our regular Jeffco store, a King Soopers employee was posted near the entrance, presumably making sure that everyone who entered was masked. Such staffers don't monitor capacity; that's supposedly being done using an automated system known as QueVision — although the place was as packed as it might have been pre-pandemic. Somehow, though, when we got to the produce section, a man was blithely going about his business while showing off his nose and mouth to everyone in the vicinity. (He's the guy on the right of the photo collage at the top of this post; the picture has been pixelated to protect the guilty.)
As a result, there seemed to be an invisible force field around the man. The majority of those nearby tried to give him as wide a berth as possible while cutting him side-eye glares — but the place was so packed, avoiding him wasn't easy. Some people waited for extended periods of time for him to move so they could get the items they needed without being subjected to any more of his air than absolutely necessary.
Other customers going about their business would accidentally wind up close to him, then suddenly realize what was up and screech to a halt or scurry away. None confronted him, and neither did any employees call the unmasked man on his dubious decision. To use a common but especially appropriate phrase, they just avoided him like the plague until he left the produce section — and began making folks in other parts of the store uncomfortable.
Dodging this dude became even more difficult when another mask hater showed up — the identity-disguised fellow on the left above — and began meandering from aisle to aisle. We'd try to get away from Anti-Masker Number 1 only to find ourselves in close proximity to Anti-Masker Number 2. Suddenly, shopping went from a routine task to a viral variation on Whack-a-Mole — except in this version of the game, the moles could move.
Part of the blame for what went down, and how it made people following regulations feel, certainly falls on these men, who presumably see their personal freedom as being more important than the possibility of sickening those around them. But stores that allow such behavior have a responsibility, too — and by shirking it, they could wind up losers in the long run.
By the way, on December 8, Governor Jared Polis extended the state order requiring facial coverings to be worn in public for another thirty days. Happy holidays, anti-maskers.
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