Walgreens is one of the largest pharmacy chains in the United States and is currently partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide on-site COVID-19 vaccinations at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the country, including in Colorado. The company's branches will also have a major role in inoculating members of the wider public against the novel coronavirus.
But if you manage to get an appointment to receive a shot at one of its stores, you could encounter a fellow customer without a mask.
In a statement provided to Westword on January 25, a Walgreens spokesperson backed into an acknowledgment of this policy.
"Consistent with CDC guidelines, customers are required to wear face covers before entering the store except where doing so would inhibit the individual’s health or where the individual is under two years of age," the representative said. "We have signage on doors and make announcements over the store's public address system to remind customers that face covers are required."
However, the rep added, "Walgreens management may gently remind customers who are shopping without masks about the requirement, but out of concern for our employees’ safety, we do not stop these customers from shopping."
This corporate approach was more common during the early days of the pandemic, when stories about violent reactions to requests for facial-covering usage began cropping up; note the May 2020 arrest of an anti-masker charged with shooting a cook at an Aurora Waffle House over such demands. And such incidents still occasionally take place in the state. Aurora police are still on the lookout for a man who allegedly assaulted an employee at an Aurora Sinclair station on January 4 after being asked to don a mask, and on January 28, CBS4 reported on an upcoming court date for a Florida man who whacked an Uber driver in Breckenridge when he asked that he cover up his nose and mouth. The following package includes footage of the incident:
For the most part, though, major companies have found ways to enforce in-store mask rules without being held hostage by angry objectors — though some have done so sooner than others.
A case in point is Natural Grocers, a national chain that got its start more than six decades ago as the homegrown Vitamin Cottage and today has 41 Colorado stores. A November 9 Westword story about COVID-19 safety protocols shared a response sent to a customer who'd complained about an unmasked patron at a local branch, which included a letter explaining why the company used educational signage rather than preventing anyone without a facial covering from entering its stores: "We want to promote a calm and peaceful shopping environment, where our Crew members are not put in harm’s way."
After publication of that post, Natural Grocers reached out to Westword to dispute the report, maintaining that it began requiring customers to wear facial coverings back in July. Yet the company didn't disclaim the authenticity of the original letter, nor did it refute a National Grocers memo stating that a policy requiring shoppers to don masks would be adopted as of November 20.
For its part, Walgreens has made headlines on numerous occasions for its approach to masks. Last July, for example, the company avoided a court hearing in Cicero, near Chicago, after paying for eight citations related to facial-covering violations, and a South Carolina journalist reported on being served at a local Walgreens without wearing a mask in an August piece.
Not much has changed. Earlier this month, a patron of a Grand Junction Walgreens complained to the company about the mask matter. The response from the firm, obtained by Westword, states in part: "For our team member safety, Walgreens corporate guidance is that our team members should not be barring customers without face coverings from entry and should not be forcing or asking such customers to leave the store."
Clearly, Walgreens is standing by procedures that allow mask-less customers to be served, even though medically vulnerable people will be entering the stores to be vaccinated in increasing numbers over the weeks and months to come.
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