The tough realities of the brand new masks mandate

After the latest CDC guidelines for wearing a mask were released, even the most hopeful anti-maskers hadn’t expected the agency to come down so quickly to announce that fully vaccinated people won’t have to wear a mask outside or inside.

The CDC’s dictates were soon followed by proclamations from major retailers, including Costco, Walmart, Publix and Trader Joe’s, saying that their company policies would be in line with the CDC. These were the first well-known companies to confirm that mask-free shopping was allowed immediately, and in some cases added that vaccinated shop clerks could work without a mask.

But things get complicated soon. These major retailers have already said that although the CDC has stated that masks are no longer mandatory, they will comply with all laws in states with masking regulations called mask mandates. We may be facing a crash course at the interface between a pandemic that refuses to stop and the legal consequences of civil disobedience.

After living with COVID-19 for a year, our belief is strengthened that the nation’s Costcos will, as part of company policy, force employees to confront individuals in a condition that requires masking that those individuals do not wear a mask . In practice, this will put a lot of pressure on states that have decided to keep their mask regulations for the time being.

But any state government or municipality that has masking regulations would have already changed this if it had considered it politically sensible. At the time of the CDC announcement last week, roughly half of the U.S. states and territories still have masking requirements.

While these states won’t respond well to huge corporate pressures to get rid of masking regulation, a shrewd and thoughtful jurisdiction can use the CDC’s new guidelines as a political shield, claiming that it is not them, but the CDC itself, who make the masking decision. This should go down pretty well with a lot of people, but it really doesn’t do anything to avoid the chaos we’re in right now.

From a legal perspective, civil rights claims could potentially be asserted if employees were forced to compromise their safety when attempting to enforce masking rules in a jurisdiction based on the CDC’s decision. No large corporation wanted to find itself in this situation because it wanted the states and the CDC to be fully coordinated so that the decision of whether or not the patrons to be masked must be masked is entirely decided.

We woke up one morning to find that a former child star had gone viral on social media for refusing to wear a mask in a California Costco – a state with a masking mandate where everyone uses masks in public indoor spaces have to carry. #CostcoJason also went viral after a staff member refused to allow anyone, even a small celebrity, to enter the store in violation of state regulations. But things can get very ugly very quickly in the coming days and weeks, and we will unfortunately find that the next social media memes will have a far less happy ending in that regard.

Aron Solomon is a Senior Digital Strategist at and an Associate Professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University.

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