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Winn-Dixie, Fresco y Mas Join Stores Lifting Mask Restrictions Following New CDC Guidance

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Winn-Dixie and Fresco y Mas became the latest stores to lift a mask mandate following new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a Saturday statement from their parent company, Southeastern Grocers, the move will be just for fully vaccinated customers and associates and "in keeping with CDC guidelines, we will continue to require those not fully vaccinated to wear face coverings while in our stores."

Friday, Publix, Walmart, Costco and Trader Joe's joined the growing list of retailers that are lifting mask mandates for vaccinated customers.

In a statement, Lakeland-based Publix said the policy change will start Saturday.

"As a result of the recently updated U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, Publix will no longer require fully vaccinated associates or customers to wear face coverings, unless required by a state or local order or ordinance, beginning May 15," the grocery store chain said in a statement.

Walmart customers who are fully vaccinated will be able to shop without a mask starting Friday.

The supermarket giant noted that "fully vaccinated" means two weeks have elapsed from the time an individual received their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Walmart said fully vaccinated employees will not need to wear a mask to work starting May 18th. As an incentive, the company said it is offering workers $75 if they prove they have been vaccinated. 

Both Walmart and Publix did not say how they plan to verify whether a customer is fully inoculated against COVID-19. Facial coverings remain optional for customers.

Costco and Trader Joe's said they would not require proof of vaccination, but employees at the grocery chain will still need to cover their faces.

"We will not require proof of vaccination, but we ask for members' responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy," Costco said in a statement.

While some retailers are easing mask restrictions, others are not changing their policy.

Several major chains, including CVS, Home Depot, Macy's and supermarket giant Kroger Co., said they are still requiring masks in stores for the time being, though some said they are reviewing their policies.

Susan Norton, an employment attorney, said big retailers don't want to ask questions, so many will keep mask mandates in place.

"They don't want to get into that for many good reasons, how would you even know if people are telling you the truth? It's just easier to wear a mask to protect everyone," Norton said.

According to the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear a mask or maintain social distancing in small or large groups. But for those are not vaccinated, mask and social distancing precautions are still in place.

Despite the changes, many South Floridians said they are still wearing masks in public places -- especially if a store mandates that you wear a facial covering.

"I think you're going to have to wait to see what businesses and the country is going to do, as long as the sign is up for the store I'm going to continue to wear the mask, as long as the sign says to wear the mask," said resident Cheryl Phillips.

And the law says private businesses can keep those requirements as long as they wish.

"You see policies with no shoes, no service, you have to wear a shirt, it's the same concept and so far masks haven't been prohibited, so I don't see the government stepping in," Norton said.

Masks are still required when traveling by plane, train or bus, or at the airport, according to the TSA.

Nearly 47% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and cases have dropped to their lowest level since September, at an average of about 35,000 a day. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted in making the announcement that the vaccine has proved powerfully effective in preventing serious COVID-19 illness.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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