Retailers, states grapple with shifting COVID-19 mask mandates

Man wearing mask and cowboy hat
Man wearing mask and cowboy hat

Gilbert Mercier / Flickr cc

Major retailers across the country, including Target, Starbucks, and Walmart, are changing their in-store mask requirements following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) announcement last week that fully vaccinated Americans are now safe to resume almost all activities without wearing a mask.

Starbucks, Walmart, Costco, and Trader Joe's have all said they will require masks for fully vaccinated patrons only if local law dictates it.

Today Target and CVS said they will "strongly recommend" masks for unvaccinated customers and employees, but fully vaccinated shoppers are not expected to don masks. All businesses, however, have emphasized that they will follow local laws and regulations.

Despite the new guidance from the CDC that vaccinated people don't need to wear masks for most activities, many vaccinated Americans remain reluctant to give up their masks, the Associated Press reports. The mask has acted as both a security measure and was a visible way to signal that a person took the pandemic seriously.

As of yesterday, 18 states have lifted statewide mask mandates, meaning about one third of the country is now mask-free for the first time in roughly 1 year.

All states report case declines

For the first time since the pandemic started, President Joe Biden said today, all 50 states are reporting declining COVID-19 case counts. Also, Biden said, as of tomorrow, 60% of eligible Americans will have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Biden has set a national goal of 70% of the population vaccinated with at least one dose by Jul 4.

The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows 344,503,495 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered in the United States, and 273,545,207 have been administered, with 123,282,685 Americans fully vaccinated.

"But tens of millions still need to get vaccinated," Biden said. And because the United States has secured enough doses for all Americans over the age of 12, Biden said he plans to distribute an additional 20 million vaccine doses globally by the end of June. By then, the United States will have donated 80 million vaccine doses globally.

"No ocean's wide enough, no wall is high enough to keep us safe," Biden said, making clear that as long as the virus was raging in some parts of the globe, the pandemic was still a threat to Americans.

Yesterday, the United States reported 16,864 new COVID-19 cases and 262 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. In total, the United States has confirmed 32,959,871 cases, including 586,216 deaths.

Other US developments

  • States in the Northeast are reporting significant drops in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the past 2 weeks, according to the New York Times. In Pennsylvania, reported cases have fallen 44% and hospitalizations have dropped 28% in that span. 

  • Anne Schuchat, MD, the CDC's principal deputy director will step down this summer, according to Politico. Her departure comes on the heels of that of longtime senior scientist Nancy Messonnier, MD, whose last day was May 14.

  • 24-hour service resumes today on New York City's subway system, CBS News reports. The subway system closed down every night for COVID-19 cleaning starting in May 2020.

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