Consumer Alert: Retailers return to mask mandates. Here are the policies for eight big retailers in the Rochester area

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Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect changes made to Tops and Wegmans’ policies on masks since this story was originally published on Monday.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Seven weeks. Tuesday marks exactly seven weeks since the governor lifted the mask mandate for vaccinated New Yorkers.

Since then, we’ve seen shoppers grinning from ear to ear. And you could see the grin because they weren’t wearing masks. But that has changed.

It started with a decision by the proverbial 800-pound gorilla of retail we know as Walmart. It took the lead when corporate leaders announced last weekend that they’re requiring associates who work in counties with substantial or high transmission rates to wear masks. And when that retail giant makes a step, the echo reverberates throughout the industry.

On Monday Target, Lowe’s and Kohl’s and followed suit, requiring masks for all their associates who work in stores in areas with high or substantial transmission rates. They are encouraging customers to wear masks as well. But Apple and McDonald’s are requiring employees and customers to wear masks in areas of the country with substantial and high rates of transmission. Home Depot leaders are requiring employees to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, and will ask customers to wear them as well, but the company stopped short of saying it will require customers to wear them.

And as News10 NBC reported on Monday, the CDC says Monroe, Wayne, and Ontario Counties are areas with substantial transmission rates. Take a look at the CDC map of transmission rates across the country. The map is interactive, allowing you to look at rates in specific counties.

New York is primarily yellow and orange. Orange is bad. And most folks in the News10NBC viewing area are in an orange zone. Over the weekend the CDC declared that Monroe County was in an orange zone. On Monday it added Wayne and Ontario Counties.

So what’s it like to shop with these new Delta-driven retail rules? I went to check it out Monday afternoon. Target just began mandating masks for employees on Monday and it was clear the information hadn’t trickled down to public-facing employees yet. Most were not wearing masks, and about half the shoppers were. But Walmart was a completely different story. It looked as though we’d rolled back the clock six months. All the employees had masks. Not all were wearing them correctly, but they had them. And three-quarters of the shoppers were wearing them as well.

So I checked with Wegmans and Tops, and their answers may surprise you.

A Wegmans spokesperson wrote, “We continue to review any new masking guidelines from the CDC, and adhere to any local or state mandates that require masks indoors. At this time, fully vaccinated customers and employees are not required to wear a face covering in our stores, except where mandated at the state or local level.”

A spokesperson for Tops told me, “At this time masks are optional for fully vaccinated customers and tops associates in our stores. We will continue to monitor any new guidance set forth by the CDC as well as any local or state governing office that would mandate that masks are required indoors and adjust accordingly.”

So, of course, I had a follow-up question. Both retailers said they would follow local mandates. While the state and county are not mandating masks, they are strongly recommending them for vaccinated and unvaccinated people while indoors in areas with substantial and high transmission rates. So will Tops and Wegmans continue to make employee masking optional until there’s a mandate? Neither grocer had answered that question by the end of the workday on Monday.

But as retailers across the country started mandating employee mask-wearing, both retailers modified their policies. On Tuesday Wegmans tweeted, “Effective immediately: After reviewing the updated guidance from the CDC & state & local health departments, we strongly encourage all customers, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask while shipping with us. All employees are now required to wear a mask in our stores.”

And on Wednesday, Tops emailed me the following statement:

“The health and safety of our associates, as well as that of our customers, is at the core of every decision. Throughout the pandemic, we have been closely monitoring local, state and CDC guidance. The CDC is again recommending wearing face coverings in public settings, including grocery stores, to help curb the spread of the virus. Starting this Friday, August 6, all associates, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear face coverings while working in our stores. At this time, our current policy for customers will remain unchanged. Those customers that are fully vaccinated will have the option to wear a face covering. Unvaccinated customers must wear a face covering while shopping in our stores. This includes all individuals age two or over that are able to medically tolerate a face covering.”