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Retailers Revisit Mask Debate After New C.D.C. Guidelines

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Companies that dealt with shifting recommendations, angry customers and vulnerable employees earlier in the pandemic find themselves again considering mask mandates.

By Lauren Hirsch and Coral Murphy Marcos

Updated guidance from the government on pandemic precautions has put retailers in a position they thought they were past: deciding whether or not to mandate masks for customers and employees.

The new recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for wearing masks again in places where the virus is spreading fast and cover nearly two-thirds of U.S. counties. Just two months ago, the agency said fully vaccinated people could remove their masks. But the Delta variant of the coronavirus has changed the safety equation and the guidelines.

Some companies responded swiftly. Apple announced on Wednesday that it would start requiring employees and customers to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status in more than half of its stores.

“Retailers will continue to follow the guidance of the C.D.C.,” the National Retail Federation said in a statement. It added, “It is truly unfortunate that mask recommendations have returned when the surest known way to reduce the threat of the virus is widespread vaccination.”

Other large retailers refrained from making any immediate policy changes.

A spokeswoman for Publix, which has more than 1,000 stores across Florida and the rest of the South, said the grocer was “reviewing the updated C.D.C. guidance at this time and will provide updates regarding our policies as appropriate.”

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