Publix Super Markets will require employees to wear face coverings regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status beginning Monday.
The Lakeland-based grocery chain announced the policy Friday afternoon. Publix had previously allowed employees who were vaccinated to go without masks in stores.
The announcement follows a change in guidance this week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that people in areas of substantial or high transmission risk wear face coverings in public, indoor spaces, even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Florida has led the nation in new cases in recent weeks as the highly contagious delta variant has spawned a dramatic resurgence of cases and hospitalizations.
Publix’s announcement did not say that customers will be asked to wear face coverings in stores, instead saying, “... we encourage all to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
In the statement, Director of Communications Maria Braus said, “We continue to encourage, but not require, our associates to get vaccinated.”
Publix and many retailers posted signs last year asking customers to wear face coverings, in accordance with CDC recommendations. The federal agency adjusted its guidance in the spring, as reported COVID-19 cases steadily declined, and said that fully vaccinated Americans need not wear masks in most indoor settings.
Publix revised its signs to request only that unvaccinated customers continue to wear face coverings. Employees with uncovered faces became common inside stores, indicating that they had received vaccinations.
New reports suggest that even vaccinated people can not only become infected but also spread the virus that causes COVID-19. The risk of serious illness is drastically lower for vaccinated people, the CDC and other health organizations report.
National retailers are considering a return to requesting that all customers wear masks.
The National Retail Federation said in a statement that retailers large and small “will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC.”
The statement said: “It is truly unfortunate that mask recommendations have returned when the surest known way to reduce the threat of the virus is widespread vaccination.”
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USA TODAY reported on Friday that Walmart and Sam’s Club were again requiring all employees in Florida and other COVID-19 hotspots to wear masks, even if they were fully vaccinated.
As of Friday afternoon, the Florida Department of Health reported that 60% of Floridians had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The figure for Polk County was 51%.
Gary White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7518. Follow on Twitter @garywhite13.
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