Local restaurants, grocery stores and customers for the past several days wrestled with how best to proceed after the Shelby County Health Department changed COVID-19 guidelines and eased masking restrictions.
The latest health directive began Saturday and states businesses and restaurants can choose whether to require customers to wear masks or not.
While some Shelby County stores posted signs outside with the new rules, other businesses continue to enforce masks inside.
“Every store has their own policy,” said Samson George, owner of Sam’s Indian Grocery in Collierville. “So, we insist on people, like our staff and customers, to wear a mask all the time.”
Latest health directive:Shelby County mask mandate scaled back; guidance offered for when masking is required
Although the new mask policies began over the weekend, George had some customers try to shop without a mask on and had to either make them leave or find a mask.
“It’s hard because maybe people will get offended if we ask them to wear a mask,” George said. “It’s still risky for the employees and customers, so we will continue to ask people to wear a mask inside our store and keep people safe.”
Shelby County’s newest health directive, the 21st of its kind, “strongly encouraged” people who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine to mask around others, and if businesses post signs requiring masks then patrons must wear them.
Fully vaccinated against COVID-19?:Shelby County still requires masks in these situations
High Point Grocery, 469 High Point Terrace, requires employees to mask but put up signs recommending customers wear them inside the building.
“It’s not required by law and we are not here to enforce that,” said Taylor James, vice president of sales at High Point Grocery.
James said through the pandemic he follows the word of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor, for business rules.
“I sell groceries so I’m not one to say what people should do,” James said. “We as a company have listened to him and followed any of those guidelines.”
James said High Point Grocery will most likely keep the “masks recommended” signs up for a while and will continue to listen and follow health department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Other grocery stores in the area like Kroger, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Costco have signs posted stating individuals fully vaccinated do not need to wear a mask inside the store.
Many customers and employees inside the Walmart in Collierville wore masks Wednesday afternoon but some were seen without one.
Ambiguous mask guidelines put restaurants in ‘tough positions’
Along with grocery stores, Memphis restaurants also try to find a balance with the most recent health directive.
Mike Miller, president of the Memphis Restaurant Association, said businesses can decide how to go on with the new guidelines and the organization provides the information they need.
“There’s a complete variance of opinion as to how best to proceed,” Miller said. “We have some members that are fully requiring masks for staff and customers, we have some that are staff only and we have some that are requiring none.”
Miller said the new guidelines are ambiguous and puts restaurants in “tough positions” by pushing responsibility of a divisive issue onto the business owner.
“If I’m a business owner and I say I’m requiring masks, I’m likely to upset some folks that don’t want to have masks and the converse is true,” he said.
Miller does not require masks at his restaurant Patrick’s, 4972 Park Ave., but does recommend unvaccinated people wear them.
Similar to Patrick’s, Huey’s also “highly encourages” customers to wear masks but they are not required.
Samantha Dean, marketing and special projects director for Huey’s Restaurants, said currently employees must continue masking and practicing recommended COVID-19 precautions but the company is considering allowing fully vaccinated workers the option to not mask.
“Our biggest concerns are, and will always be, our staff and customers,” Dean said. “We strive to make informed decisions so our guests feel both comfortable and safe when they dine with us, while simultaneously doing everything in our power to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Dean said the decision relied heavily on guidance by the health department and CDC.
Miller asks the public to be respectful and considerate of restaurant owners’ decisions on masking during the pandemic
“Our folks in our industry have been beat up pretty darn well over the last year and we’re in the process of trying to recover,” Miller said.