Delta Variant Spurs Mask, Vaccination Rules

Businesses are adjusting policies for employees and consumers.

August 05, 2021

Woman getting COVID-19 Vaccine

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Businesses nationwide are responding to the rapidly shifting environment caused by COVID-19’s delta variant, and are re-imposing mask recommendations or mandates plus new incentives on vaccines, reports the Washington Post.

When states and localities lifted mask mandates during late spring as the pandemic eased, companies took mixed routes when it came to vaccinations for their employees, often turning to incentives to encourage vaccination instead of mandates. Now, the landscape has changed. Last week, Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, announced it will require vaccines for workers at its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters and doubled its cash incentive to $150 for store and warehouse workers who get the vaccine.

“As we all know, the pandemic is not over, and the delta variant has led to an increase in infection rates across much of the U.S.,” said Doug McMillon, CEO, in a memo to employees. “We want to get to a place where we can use our offices and be together safely.”

Some companies announced new policies, but others retained their old ones while mulling what to do next. Others ducked the muddle entirely by keeping their employees working from home for the time being if possible.

The U.S. government continues to pressure private companies to introduce coronavirus vaccine mandates to help the nation raise inoculation rates, reports the New York Times. To make it easier, the Food and Drug Administration is accelerating its timetable to fully approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and hopes to complete the process early next month.

Like many factories and food production facilities, Tyson Foods will require COVID-19 vaccinations for its entire U.S. workforce, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Arkansas-based company’s target is partly subject to discussions with labor unions that represent about one-third of the company’s hourly workers, Tyson officials said. The company will offer a $200 bonus to its front-line workers as an incentive, though some union leaders pushed back because the vaccines haven’t been fully approved by regulators.

“We were all hoping we’d be through all of this at this point,” said Kelli Felker, spokesperson for Ford Motor Co., which has added Georgia to the list of states where all employees will have to wear masks regardless of vaccine status, a policy already reinstated for workers in Kentucky, Missouri and Florida.

After dropping its mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals in May, McDonald's is reimposing the requirement for customers and employees at U.S. locations that are in areas with high coronavirus transmission.

Meanwhile, the city of New York has announced a strict policy that will require proof of vaccination for workers and customers who want to participate in indoor public activities, the New York Times reports. This includes dining in restaurants, working out in gyms and attending theater performances.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, three in 10 adults remain unvaccinated, including one in 10 who say they want to “wait and see” how the vaccine works for others before getting vaccinated and 3% who say they will do so “only if required,” down from 6% in June.

An additional 14% say they will “definitely not” get a vaccine, a share that has held steady since December 2020. One-fourth of unvaccinated adults (8% of all adults) say they are likely to get a vaccine before the end of 2021, including nearly half (45%) of those who say they want to “wait and see.”

Unvaccinated adults, especially those who say they will “definitely not” get a vaccine, are much less worried about the coronavirus and the delta variant, and they have less confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines compared to vaccinated individuals. Three-fourths of unvaccinated adults, including nine in 10 of those who say they will “definitely not” get the vaccine, say they are “not worried” about getting seriously sick from the virus, and less than half say they are worried about the delta variant worsening the pandemic. More than half (including 75% of “definitely not”) say getting vaccinated is a bigger risk to their health than getting coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the controversy over wearing/not wearing a mask continues. Last week, a customer at a food mart in West Oakland, Calif., upset about the store’s indoor mask mandate, threw a bag of groceries at a cashier and shattered the glass items inside, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Store owner, Brahm Ahmadi, said that earlier this month, another customer threw a watermelon at a worker, and in a third incident, a customer chucked a can of soda at the general manager’s head, but missed him.

As NACS Daily reported yesterday, NACS has joined nine other associations to send a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Acting Assistant Secretary James Frederick and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky requesting clarification on the recently issued CDC mask guidance. The associations say the burden of enforcing mask mandates should not be placed on retail employees. The letter asked the agencies “to prioritize the safety of our employees and clarify that businesses should not be the enforcers of mask wearing.”

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.