When NBC's Sam Brock walked into a Naples, Florida, grocery store to buy a sandwich on Wednesday, he didn't expect to see almost every employee and customer in the supermarket, people of all ages, not wearing a mask.
Collier County and city regulations require masks in businesses, but it quickly became apparent that these rules weren't being enforced. In fact, a sign outside the store stated that customers don't have to wear masks if they have a medical condition preventing them from doing so and that store employees "cannot legally ask" them about it to verify.
Aflie Oakes, the owner of the supermarket in question, Oakes Farms Seed to Table, told Brock about his views on masking in an interview that aired Thursday on TODAY.
"I know that the masks don't work, and I know that the virus has not killed 400,000 people in this country. That's total hogwash," Oakes said. "Why don't we shut the world down because of a heart attack? Why don't we lock down cities because of heart attacks?"
In the U.S., more than 450,000 people have died from COVID-19. Florida's COVID-19 death toll surpassed 27,000 on Monday, according to a local NBC affiliate. Public health experts have said for months that widespread masking will prevent the spread of the virus and save lives, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "experimental and epidemiological data support community masking."
"Probably the most important thing is we see mask use up over 85%," Dr. Atul Gawande, a former member of President Joe Biden's COVID-19 advisory board, told TODAY. "That's been a critical part of getting these (COVID-19) numbers down."
Brock's video of Oakes' store, which he posted on Twitter Wednesday, has already been viewed over 2 million times and garnered largely outraged responses.
"They're all immune, until they're not. And then an overworked, overstressed healthcare professional has to clean up their mess," wrote one Twitter user.
"The management (at Oakes Farmes) is intentionally spreading a deadly virus," added another.
"Medical accommodation means you can get your groceries shopped and delivered to you at the sidewalk," tweeted a third. "Or delivered at home. Or some other method. It's not a free pass to be an a------."
Brock said the market is "unquestionably an outlier" and that most stores and supermarkets in the area follow the rules requiring masks in businesses. Collier County Commissioner Andy Solis, who proposed the mask mandate, expressed frustration over what Brock witnessed.
"It's very concerning to see images like this," he said on TODAY. "I'm worried that it will lead to more cases and overwhelmed hospitals."