The Tampa Bay Times reported this week that Publix has been slow to respond to COVID-19 when it came to implementing measures that would protect both employees and customers. Nowhere was that more evident than with its position on protective masks.
Here’s a timeline:
March 11: COVID-19 is designated a pandemic. Publix employees are not given permission to wear protective masks while working, unless a doctor recommends it for individual workers. At the time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was not recommending the use of face masks by the general public to ensure enough were available for health care workers.
March 12: At local chain Nature’s Food Patch, management begins trying to secure masks for employees, who also are permitted to bring their own, including those made of cloth, while working.
March 24: Kroger says it’s securing masks for its workers. Employees are told they can bring their own from home, while the Publix policy prohibiting masks remains.
March 31: Publix says some workers can wear masks. A memo specifies they must be disposable surgical or dust masks and that reusable cloth masks are not permitted. Prepared foods employees are barred from wearing masks. The same day, Walmart says it has secured enough masks to soon begin distributing them to workers and reiterates employees can wear their own masks, including cloth ones.
April 3: The CDC recommends people wear cloth face coverings in places where it is difficult to maintain social distancing, such as at supermarkets. Winn-Dixie and Walmart already allow the practice.
April 6: Publix changes its policy to allow workers to wear reusable cloth masks.
April 8: Publix gives each employee one disposable surgical mask with instructions on how to clean it over steaming water. Employees are told wearing the mask is optional.
April 14: The Fresh Market becomes first grocery chain with stores in Tampa Bay to encourage shoppers to wear face coverings while shopping.
April 16: The Times confirms at least nine local Publix workers have tested positive for the virus in Tampa Bay. Across the state, media reports confirm more than three dozen cases among employees at Publix stores.
April 20: Publix changes its policy to require all employees wear masks while working.
April 24: Publix employees are given reusable cloth face masks.
April 29: Publix begins selling Publix branded face masks online from its corporate store for both employees and the public.