Will masks return to schools & stores?

UPDATE – July 30, 2021: Publix released a statement saying they are requiring all employees, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks inside stores.

They are encouraging, but not requiring, customers to wear masks.

Walmart said it will require all its workers — including vaccinated ones — to wear masks in areas with high infection rates of COVID-19. It’s encouraging its customers to wear masks in stores in areas with high infection rates, and will be adding back signs at entrances announcing its latest policies, according to a memo supplied by Walmart that was sent to its employees Friday.

With herd immunity way off, the aggressive delta variant has people pumping the brakes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday changed its guidance to say everyone, vaccinated or not, should wear masks indoors in public spaces where COVID-19 is surging. That includes everyone in K-12 schools, but for now, our local districts are keeping masks optional.

Parents we spoke to have differing opinions. Some think masks should be mandated in schools because of the guidance and the variant surge. Others believe the CDC guidance changes often, so choices on masking should be left up to the parents.

In just a couple of weeks, students will fill Lee County schools. Some of them will be masked, some will not.

“In this case, my daughter should be wearing a mask all the time in school,” said parent Luis Hernandez.

“I will give him the option, but I’m 100% sure he will not wear the mask,” said parent Angela Salander.

The CDC said everyone in schools, even if they’re vaccinated, should mask up indoors. It’s guidance Hernandez thinks everyone should take seriously.

“I believe the schools, they should be considering it,” he said.

Salander kept her son home from school last year because he didn’t want to wear a mask. She said the CDC’s guidance doesn’t change her mind that masks should be ditched in schools.

“The CDC, every time you turn around, they change something,” she said.

“They can’t see people’s faces or smiling; it’s hard to understand teachers sometimes with masks on and they’re losing a lot.”

With masks optional in local school districts, we posted on Facebook to ask parents if it’ll change how their children will attend school. Some said they’ll keep their kids home because of the mask policy.

Lee County School Board Chair Debbie Jordan said she understands parents’ concerns, but the district looks to state leaders for direction.

“We do want to listen to all the parents but there are times where we really don’t have a choice on what we have to do, that we are mandated to do.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said school mask mandates will not happen in Florida, even saying he would call a special legislative session if the federal government required masks in schools.

“There’s been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level, imposing compulsory masks on kids,” DeSantis said July 22. “We’re not doing that in Florida, OK? We need our kids to breathe.”

What about stores?

New numbers released Wednesday by Lee Health show that COVID-19 cases are spreading fast in Lee County, and a number of people are taking note. Just look around when you’re out and you’ll see more people are masking up once again.

Whether stores will return to requiring masks is up in the air. The majority of them lifted their mask requirements when the CDC changed its guidance back in May. Now that the CDC has updated its guidance again as cases rise once more, Winn-Dixie said they’re encouraging customers to wear masks as they shop, and Publix said it’s reviewing the updated guidance.

CVS is requiring employees to wear masks, even if they’re vaccinated, and recommending customers do the same. Walgreens dropped its mask mandate in May for employees and customers, encouraging only those who aren’t vaccinated to wear a mask. The company has not issued any statements regarding the CDC’s latest guidance.

When it comes to whether or not shoppers want to wear masks? That’s a mixed bag.

“I just don’t believe that they should be able to dictate that to us, that we have to wear a mask or not wear a mask,” said Mario Aversano of North Fort Myers.

“I think that it’s beneficial for us to listen to it,” said Helen Singletary, also of North Fort Myers.

With the delta variant in play, the CDC said Tuesday that vaccinated people should wear a mask indoors in areas with high transmission. That includes almost every Florida county..

Singletary said she wants to see more people wear masks in stores again.

“I think everyone should wear a mask in public in a place that has a lot of people around because you never know if you’ve picked it up or been in contact with someone that has it and you are passing it,” she said.

“I would be more comfortable if they were to mandate it.”

North Fort Myers resident James Finn said the vaccinated should be free to go maskless.

“If you are vaccinated, you should be able to go wherever you want, no problems. If you are not vaccinated, then I guess you should wear a mask.”

Aversano said he’s unvaccinated and doesn’t plan to get the shot, and he doesn’t plan to wear a mask regardless of what the CDC or any store says.

“I just think it is against the free will of the American people,” he said.

WINK News checked with Walmart and Costco to see if they’re updating their mask policies, but we’re still waiting to hear back. Target also has yet to make any statements regarding the change.

Reporter:Breana Ross
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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