Since the beginning of the pandemic, the public has been asked to make changes in the way we go about our daily lives. Count wearing masks as one of those changes.
Health expert say it’s a small chore but will go a long way in keeping people healthy. No problem, then. That’s something we can all get behind, right?
Not so fast.
There are plenty of people who don’t take that advice and refuse to wear masks in places where they are mandatory. Grocery store workers see it everyday, and they’re frustrated by unwilling customers who decide to take their angers out on them
“It's scary,” Ralph’s store manager Esther Lopez said. “It's a scary thing because I have to think about my co-workers. I have to think about my customers. I mean, how is this going to affect everyone, and then on top of that, I have to think about how the company is going to feel on the decision that I’m making to protect everyone and to keep everyone safe.”
We see similar viral videos show up on our feeds almost every week. A customer at a store is unwilling to wear a mask and becomes irate, and usually causes a big scene. The person they’re yelling at is usually a store employee who is just trying to do their job, which now includes enforcing county and state health orders.
“She wanted to video tape me and make herself at the victim for yelling at me,” Vons clerk Roger McCollough said recounting a tense situation he had with a customer. “I was never trained to be a police officer. I was never trained to do anything. I put things on shelves. I make customers suggestions for dinner. I'm not -- I don't know what to do when there’s a person that doesn't have a mask. I have to try to convince them to do it. I have no authority to do that. I can smile and suggest. I can be a little aggressive and demand it if I really need to but at the end of the day I wasn't trained for any of this. I put milk on the shelf.”
“We are not police officers, we are grocery clerks,” Albertson’s produce manager Mike Ryan added. “We are managers of a grocery store and our job is to take care of our customers, make sure they have the products to purchase, especially in times like this. And that's all we're here to do.”
The group said there can be considerable fear and anxiety when these situations occur. Lopez described it as if they’ve all become “punching bags.“
“I have to defuse what customers tell my cashier. ‘It's your fault that I have to wear this mask!’ And I’m like, how is it my cashiers fault that you are asked to wear a mask? I don't recall her creating COVID. I don't recall him creating COVID,” Lopez said.
The group wasn’t sure what the solution to the problem is, but that’s another thing that’s not in their job description. At this point, they’re aren’t sure that a mandate from the federal government would make a difference.
“They can mandate it, but people will not do it because every person believes they have a right to do their own thing. That's the end of the story,” McCollough said. “They can do whatever they want because they are un-American. They don't care what the government says because the government said we have the freedom to do whatever we want. It doesn't matter if it comes out right now, putting a mask on is a sign socialism or communism or something like that. It's just, they're going to do what they’re going to do and I can't stop them.”
Lopez hopes that if customers consider what’s at stake for store employees, they might take safety precautions more seriously.
“Take care of us,” she said. If you want us to be there six days a week over 48 hours a week, take care of us. Take care of yourselves as well.”
“That’s all we're asking people to do,” Ryan added. “Is just take safety precautions necessary to protect all of us. We all have families to go home to at the end of the day.”
“We are here working our butts off,” McCullough said. “We're missing our family time so you can have food on your table and all we ask is protect us, too, for 20minutes while you're in there. That’s it.”
In California, face masks inside grocery stores are mandated by state public health order. Next week, national chains including Target, Walmart, and Kroger grocery chains will require masks in their stores.