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Kroger, Walmart mandate masks

Beginning this week, Walmart and Kroger, the nation’s two largest retailers, are requiring customers to wear masks when inside their stores.

Walmart made the change effective Monday, and Kroger made the change on Wednesday.

The new policies apply to the Kroger stores at Kimberly Square, Bellerive and Brannon Crossing and the Walmart store on U.S. 27 in Nicholasville.

The two companies join other big box stores that already had such policies in place, including Sam’s Club, Rural King, Best Buy and Costco. Others are expected to follow suit, including Target on Aug. 1.

In the absence of consistent government policies regarding face coverings, many businesses have taken it upon themselves to require masks to protect their employees and reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus because of a huge increase in cases of COVID-19, a sometimes deadly respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear last week issued a statewide order requiring masks be worn in public places, but he was immediately challenged by two circuit court judges and an appellate court judge, who blocked his emergency public health orders. He appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court, who reversed the lower courts’ orders for now.

Managers at Kroger and Walmart stores are not allowed to talk with the media about the policy.

Walmart’s media relations office did not respond to a request for information, but Erin Grant, a Kroger regional media relations employee in Louisville, provided the newspaper the following statement:

“To help keep our associates and customers safe, we require all associates to wear a facial covering and we are providing masks to every associate, every shift. We support the Executive Order announced by Governor Beshear, and are making every reasonable effort to encourage compliance. We will enforce the order through door signage and in-store radio as well as the ongoing execution of additional protection measures like floor decals and protective partitions at every check lane to further promote physical distancing.

“We respect and acknowledge that some customers, due to medical reasons, may not be able to wear a mask (small children are exempt). We encourage those customers to consider an alternative option like a face shield or facial covering. If they’re unable to wear a mask or an alternative design, we request that they use our ecommerce services like pickup or delivery. To support all households during the COVID-19 pandemic, our grocery pickup service remains free (generally a $4.95 fee).

“We thank our associates and customers for partnering with us to slow down the spread of COVID-19.”

The National Retail Federation supports companies requiring masks during the pandemic and issued a statement.

“Workers serving customers should not have to make a critical decision as to whether they should risk exposure to infection or lose their jobs because a minority of people refuse to wear masks in order to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus,” it said.

Across the nation, coronavirus case numbers and deaths are surging after many businesses that had been closed during the pandemic reopened at the beginning of summer without requiring health and safety measures including social distancing and wearing masks.

In Kentucky, there have been more than 23,000 COVID-19 cases and 670 deaths as of Sunday.

According to a fact check article in USA Today Sunday, there are many misconceptions about businesses having the authority to ask customers about medical exceptions to wearing masks.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which regulates health insurance coverage and the protection of health information, does not prevent retailers from asking about health condtions because it applies only to health insurers and health care providers. Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply.

The Fourth Amendment U.S. Constitution, which protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fifth, which protects them against giving testimony against themselves, apply only to governments, not private businesses.

Private businesses are within their rights in asking people to wear masks on their premises and asking about what health conditions they have that might exempt them from complying.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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