The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may say fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear face masks, but the mask conflict at stores isn't going away.
As vaccinated Americans begin to take off their masks and retailers update their masking policies, the debates and outbursts related to mask wearing (or lack thereof) are expected to continue, experts told USA TODAY.
Retailers that have dropped mask rules for vaccinated people have said they don't plan to interrogate people or request their vaccination cards at the door and will instead rely on the honor system. The growing list includes Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, Starbucks, Target and CVS.
But what adds to the confusion – and could fuel a new round of mask battles – is that in some cases, state and local mask mandates conflict with retailers’ revamped policies, which they say are based on new mask guidelines released by the CDC on Thursday. The guidance says fully vaccinated people, for the most part, no longer need to wear masks indoors and don’t need to wear masks outdoors, even in crowded spaces.
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► Retailers dropping masks: Walmart, Target, Kohl's, Costco, Trader Joe's and Publix no longer require masks for vaccinated customers
Local advice differing from CDC guidance led to a confrontation at a Los Angeles Costco when Ricky Schroder, former "Silver Spoons" and "NYPD Blue” star, confronted a store employee asking why he wasn't allowed inside unmasked. Schroder posted a video of the exchange on his Facebook page.
While Costco changed its policy Friday, dropping mask requirements for fully vaccinated customers, the wholesale club and other retailers' policies include an exception: Customers who live in areas with mandates may still have to wear masks – regardless of vaccination status.
California announced Monday that it would adopt CDC's latest mask guidance – but not until June 15.
Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said the guidance and a "patchwork of state and local rules" about masks have created confusion. He said store employees have been at risk by trying to enforce mask policies, and the new guidelines create another level of risk.
“Retail employees should never have been the mask police, and they cannot be the vaccine police,” Dodge said. “It is impossible to confirm the vaccination status of guests, ... so businesses are looking at those orders and trying to understand what they can do appropriately in order to comply and keep everyone in their stores safe.”
Children and teens who are not vaccinated would still need to wear mask at stores. Most policies are for ages 2 and up.
"I think the parents have no choice. The children who can wear a mask – and aren't just trying to eat it – they need to do it," Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "And for those who are over 12 years of age, they should get a vaccine."
Offit says that the CDC changed the mask guidelines too soon and that the mandate should have stayed in place until more people were vaccinated and the country achieved herd immunity.
"I think it was a mistake, and I think it's going to lead people to believe that we are much closer to the finish line than we really are right now,” Offit said, adding there could be fights at stores if shoppers were asked to provide proof of vaccination.
As of Sunday, about 47.3% of people in the U.S. have received at least one COVID-19 shot and about 37% of people are fully vaccinated, according to USA TODAY’s Vaccine Tracker.
Aside from the state-to-state or city-by-city differences, Kelly Goldsmith, an associate professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said the policies differing from store to store is another area that can cause confusion. But she said she is optimistic.
"I think there’s going to be some frustration experienced by consumers in the short run. But I think it’s going to be just that – short," Goldsmith said. "If things progress the way that they have been, I don’t think we are going to see fights in stores over masks for much longer."
More than 500 USA TODAY readers shared their thoughts on whether the mask policy changes would change their shopping habits. About 80% of them self-reported they were fully vaccinated. Many said they planned to keep wearing masks, while others who self-reported as unvaccinated said they would not wear masks or get the vaccine.
Dr. Richard Porwancher, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, New Jersey, is one of the vaccinated readers who said he’ll continue to wear a mask in stores and restaurants.
“Rather than feeling confident to shop or eat indoors among strangers without a mask, I am actually more fearful now because I will not know if the unmasked population represents a threat to me or my family,” Porwancher said. "It's broader than just your own individual risk. It's who you live with, who you have contact with."
He said the recent example of the outbreak among the vaccinated New York Yankees players and coaches is a reason to give pause about removing masks.
"We need more information about our risk from variants, and it may be premature to provide assurances to the public about safety," Porwancher said. "We cannot rely on an honor system for mask use when refusal to wear a mask and failure to take the vaccine have become political statements by a significant minority."
Contributing: Jordan Mendoza, USA TODAY
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mask mandates: As stores drop masks, will it cause more conflicts?