Supermarket chain Winn-Dixie has done an about face on its mask policy and will now require customers to wear a face covering while shopping.
Southeastern Grocers, the parent company of the Florida-based grocery chain, which has approximately 500 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, announced on Monday night that it was reversing its original stance of not requiring masks and now will mandate that customers wear masks starting July 27.
The company cited customer feedback and the surge in coronavirus cases across much of the South as reasons for the change.
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"Our decisions have always been shaped by listening to our people and our communities," Southeastern Grocers said in a statement. "As we have navigated through the complexities and challenges of the pandemic, we have progressively shaped our operations and are continuing to update our policies to best protect all those who depend upon us. This unprecedented period requires a willingness to be adaptable and flexible to ever-changing circumstances, and we will continue to adjust as needed over time.
"The majority of our stores are under either a local or state government mandate, and given the continued rise of positive COVID cases in our communities across the Southeast, beginning Monday, July 27, we will be requiring masks to be worn by customers to help reduce the spread of the disease. Our communities count on us, and we are counting on our customers to show kindness as we go through these challenging times together."
Southeastern Grocers had initially taken a position counter to other supermarkets like Costco and Whole Foods, which began requiring masks in May, and Walmart, which made masks a requirement starting this week. The grocery chain Publix, also headquartered in Florida, announced last week it will mandate face coverings for customers starting Tuesday.
The mask issue has been a contentious one around the country, with numerous reports of altercations in stores between customers and employees over wearing them. Winn-Dixie referenced that tension in its original decision to not require masks.
"We do not want to cause undue friction between our customers and associates by regulating mask mandates, and we strongly encourage state officials to lead the way in regulating these type of safety mandates," the company said in a statement over the weekend.
Monday's change in policy at Winn-Dixie came shortly after President Donald Trump, who's downplayed the importance of masks, tweeted a photo of himself wearing one, saying it was "patriotic." Winn-Dixie stores are all based in states that went for Trump in the 2016 election.
That said, the decision "had absolutely nothing to do with President Trump’s tweet,” Joe Caldwell, director of corporate communications and government affairs for Southeastern Grocers, told the Washington Post.
In reversing its policy, the company also called for clearer government regulations regarding masks.
"We believe that the enforcement should be placed upon our state and federally elected officials, and we will continue to work with our peers in the retail industry to advocate for this sensible mandate to be passed into law to remove the burden from employers and their heroic frontline associates," the statement said.