The customer isn’t always right.
Video footage of maskless Naples, Fla., grocery shoppers being rung up by cashiers — who also aren’t wearing masks —- was spreading outrage on social media on Thursday.
NBC News reporter Sam Brock said that he was reporting on a different story when he stumbled across the store that is operating as though the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t exist. The 15-second clip that he shared on Twitter on Wednesday night captures the stark divide between the more than 450,000 Americans who have been killed by the coronavirus over the past year, and those who have resisted following the social distancing guidelines proven to limit the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.
The clip shows shoppers — many of them elderly men and women who are more vulnerable to worse COVID illness, hospitalization and death — standing in checkout lines without wearing any face coverings. The cashiers ringing them up and bagging their groceries aren’t wearing masks, either.
As #Flordia fights community spread of COVID on a massive scale, this is a 15-second snapshot of a supermarket in Naples. Many employees and customers- even older ones- with no masks on inside. Store sign outside cites “medical exemptions,” we can’t ask questions. @NBCNews pic.twitter.com/rNUSOPLjeB
— Sam Brock (@SamBrockNBC) February 3, 2021
Viewers expressed shock and frustration on social media, with tweets claiming “My jaw is literally on my desk” and “we should exempt them from the vaccine line then,” spurring the video to go viral, and leading “Naples” and “Seed to Table” to trend on Twitter on Thursday morning.
Brock said that he was not allowed to question customers or employees about why they were flouting the mask guidelines recommended by the CDC and the Biden administration. Florida does not have a statewide mask mandate; it recommends them, but it does not require them for the general public. And while some cities and counties like Miami-Dade and Palm Beach have enacted their own mask requirements, they don’t really have teeth because Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that bans local governments from fining or penalizing people who don’t comply with mask orders.
(The AARP has compiled a list of each state’s mask requirements here as a handy guide.)
Brock was directed to a sign posted at the Oakes Farm store, instead, which uses the exemption for people with medical conditions as a loophole to forego requiring customers and workers to cover their faces.
“Those in our lovely government have ordered all persons entering indoor facilities to wear a mask. If you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a mask, you are exempt form this order,” it reads.
“Due to HIPAA and the 4th Amendment we cannot legally ask you about your medical condition,” it continues. “Therefore, if we see you without a mask we will assume you have a medical condition and we will welcome you inside to support our business.”
A local resident shared a picture of the sign on Twitter.
I live 10 minutes away from that grocery store, and it is absolutely astonishing to see the lack of Covid procedures everywhere in that store. No employees wear masks, they still sell Trump merchandise outside, and they have this sign when you first walk in. pic.twitter.com/pJXzsaUC1x
— lulu (@laurafreyhof) February 3, 2021
Store owner Alfie Oakes, who has publicly expressed conservative viewpoints and organized a busload of people to attend Trump’s Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C. , told NBC that he does not believe the scientific data that has proven masks help prevent the spread of COVID. He also does not believe that more than 450,000 Americans have died.
“That’s total hogwash,” he said. “I’ve never worn a mask in my life, and I never will.”
But many people who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus over the past year beg to differ, expressing their grief and outrage that this business owner isn’t taking the virus more seriously, and is exposing his employees and customers to the virus.
We just buried a family member today, that was infected by other family members. They refused to wear masks and not visit during Thanksgiving & Christmas. They gave him COVID & now he will never be with us at Christmas or Thanksgiving again.
— Christopher Eagle (@eagle4congress) February 3, 2021
A wonderful woman in my neighborhood passed yesterday after battling Covid for over a month/hospitalized since mid-January. I can’t help but think of her seeing this video. She was beloved by her friends and family. How that empty chair for her family now means so little to some
— Stephanie Sigafoos (@ssigafoos) February 3, 2021
Others commented that they would “never set foot” in the store again, or implicated Gov. DeSantis for not doing more in response to the pandemic that has killed 27,000 Floridians, according to New York Times tracking data.
The viral video came up during the White House press briefing on Thursday. Press secretary Jen Psaki said that President Biden is taking steps to educate the public that social distancing and mask wearing is not a political move, but rather one to combat the spread of the virus. She added that the White House will continue to make health and medical experts available to the public to communicate that social distancing and wearing masks will continue to be “essential.”
“We try to fight the misinformation with facts, and fight it with health and medical experts, including at a national level and a local level,” she said, “to convey to people that wearing a mask is something that not only could save the lives of their neighbors, but also their family members.”
While there are some encouraging signs that the country is making some progress against the virus, such as case numbers and hospitalizations on the decline, we’re not out of the woods yet. Close to 4,000 Americans died of COVID-19 on Wednesday alone, when the U.S. death toll passed 450,000. And while more Americans (27.2 million) have received one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine than the number of Americans who have had confirmed cases of the virus since the start of the crisis (which stands at 26.6 million), there are some new strains and variants of the virus that could potentially be more infectious.
What’s more, someone who has been vaccinated still has the ability to contract the virus, so it’s important to continue wearing face masks and social distancing in public settings (like supermarkets) even if you’ve gotten your shots.
And social distancing rules still apply even if you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, since we don’t have clear data on how long immunity lasts, or how often people get reinfected; because yes, there have been reports of some people getting the coronavirus twice.
President Joe Biden’s administration has made tackling the pandemic a priority, with the new POTUS signing several executive orders, including one setting mask mandates on federal property. The CDC also issued a mask-wearing rule on U.S. airlines and public transportation like trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares last week, which makes refusal to wear a mask a violation of federal law.
What’s more, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has started encouraging Americans to wear two masks, even, which “likely would be more effective” in preventing COVID-19 from spreading.