Starting this week, at least three of the major grocery chains on the Kenai Peninsula are requiring customers to wear masks while shopping.
The implementation of this new policy from store to store is varied, as is the response from the community.
The Clarion attempted to speak to the local managers of Safeway and Walmart in Kenai and Fred Meyer in Soldotna about the implementation of these policies and was directed to the public relations departments for each.
For Walmart, National Media Relations Senior Manager Casey Staheli said Tuesday that associates trained as “health ambassadors” are stationed outside the store to remind customers of the new policy and have been trained to avoid potential conflicts with customers who do not want to comply.
“We’re aware there may be situations where a customer may not be able to wear a face covering,” Staheli said. “And our ambassadors will be trained on those exceptions to help reduce friction for the shopper and make the process as easy as possible for everyone.”
At the Fred Meyer in Soldotna, customers will be required to wear masks starting Wednesday, according to its website. As of Tuesday afternoon, however, there were no signs posted at the store’s entrances to notify customers of this change, and one woman visiting from out of state said she was not aware that the change would be taking place.
“I was just at Safeway earlier (today) and they didn’t tell me to wear a mask there either,” the woman, who asked not to be identified, said on Tuesday.
Safeway’s mask policy went into effect Tuesday, but during a walk through the Kenai Safeway on Tuesday afternoon only about half of the customers were wearing any sort of face covering.
Two men who spoke to the Clarion outside of the Safeway in Soldotna, but who did not wish to share their names, called the policy “stupid.”
“I don’t think they do anything,” one of the men said. “They’re giving people peace of mind, but I worked on the Slope where they do the full-face respirators. The only way they’re going to filter anything is if they have a supplied air system.”
“I think it should be everybody’s right to decide what they want to do,” the other man said, when asked if he felt these companies had the right to implement such policies. The two said that they shopped without masks and without incident Tuesday.
Joe Wackler, who was loading his groceries into his car outside Safeway Tuesday, said that he felt the policy was “a very good idea.”
Wackler said he usually wears a mask while shopping already. He forgot his mask at home that day, but none of the Safeway employees gave him any trouble for not wearing one.
“If you listen to the professionals, they will tell you that if everybody would wear a mask for two or three months, our COVID problem would be over,” Wackler said. When asked if he felt these companies had the right to mandate mask-wearing, he said they did.
“Do you think that governments have the right to tell people to wear seat belts?” Wackler said.
Jace Kornstead spoke to the Clarion outside of the Kenai Safeway. He said he doesn’t agree with the policy. While he understands the reasoning behind it, Kornstead said if it were up to him he wouldn’t have made it a requirement.
“I don’t feel too strongly about it,” Kornstead said. “I mean if you need groceries, then just get a mask and get groceries. Get in and get out. I don’t think it’s a huge deal. And with COVID and everything, it makes total sense.”
At the Walmart Supercenter in Kenai, where masks have been mandatory since Monday, some associates have already been trained as “health ambassadors” and are stationed outside the entrance to remind customers that masks are required in the store.
While speaking with the Clarion on Tuesday, an associate said that most of the customers have been compliant when reminded of the policy.
Walmart has masks available for purchase inside the store. One man asked where he could find them after being told of the policy. Another customer simply responded, “Yeah, I’m not doing that,” and continued to walk in the store.
“That’s pretty much how it goes,” the associate, who asked not to be named, said Tuesday.
Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org.