Many retailers reluctant to enforce COVID rules

Governor’s executive order widely ignored

Photo by Amudalat Ajasa Despite the warning signs, many continue to eat or drink with masks down.

While most retailers have posted signs insisting that holiday shoppers wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, strict enforcement of the policy appeared lax in some major shopping venues last week, including the Mall of America and the Rosedale Mall in Roseville.

The MSR spent time at the Mall of America on Wednesday, December 2. Many shoppers were wearing masks, but others were seen walking and eating maskless despite the mall’s rules. We also spent time last week at the Rosedale Mall.

“Upstairs there are often patrons that are eating between the potato and the pretzel place that don’t have masks on,” said April Jereczek, a worker at Sock City pop up in the Rosedale Mall. “Security can walk through the mall and tell them, but then they walk away and somebody takes their masks off again.”

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order on November 18 allowing restaurants to remain open, but for take-out only. Mall restaurants fall under the jurisdiction of this executive order.

The executive order includes specific rules for businesses that allow them to decline services to customers without masks or request that such customers leave the premises in order to ensure the safety of workers and other customers.

“You are not allowed to drink or eat in the shopping center inside,” said Lisa Crain, the senior general manager at Rosedale Shopping Center. However, the closure of in-person dining within restaurants and bars has led shoppers to eat while walking around the mall.

Crain explained that guests are encouraged and reminded to wear masks, but there isn’t any enforcement apart from that. The mall uses an educational approach to remind guests of the mandate.

“If we have people that refuse to do it, we don’t enforce it. We just continue to encourage them to comply,” Crain revealed. “With people’s responsibility and our intentions to make sure people understand the new policies, [we hope] that people will comply with them’

“We’ve had signage that masks are mandatory. We have hand sanitizer stations throughout the center. We have floor details so people understand that we are social distancing. We reduced all of our seating areas down to 50% from 100%, so we do have limited seating so people are socially separated,” Crain said.

 “Well, I’ve seen two signs that say that people aren’t supposed to [walk and eat],” said Jill Degaetano from the Minnesota Awesome pop up. “It’s supposed to be takeout only…but yes, I have seen it. I’m really surprised that they say not to [walk and eat] but they have places like the pretzel place open and Dairy Queen.”

Photo by Amudalat Ajasa

Uneven enforcement

Malls and stores are under pressure to find a delicate balance when asking customers to comply with the governor’s orders. “We are required to ask them to [wear masks] because it’s not only the safety of the customers, but it’s about the safety of the employees too,” Mina Her, brand ambassador at Forever 21 in Rosedale, explained.

Some mall workers said they are able to refuse guests if they aren’t wearing a mask before entering stores. “We are seeing people walking with masks, and if they aren’t we say, ‘You have to have a mask on or you can’t come in,’” said Aaliyah Ellis, a sales associate at Journeys in Rosedale Mall.

Rosedale mall has also changed their air flow filter system and adapted their normal holiday programming to encourage social distancing. The Mall of America uses a similar approach to encourage their shoppers to wear masks.

“We have implemented the Red Shirt Crew” Sarah Grap, MOA public relations director, explained. “These team members are positioned at each entrance in bright red to ensure everyone entering Mall of America is wearing a mask and wearing it properly.”

Guests are required to wear a mask when they enter the mall. Red Shirt Crew members are also deployed to remind customers of the mandate that requires food to be consumed outside of the mall. The mall also has signage with this reminder.

“Many aren’t aware that they are not able to eat or drink food purchased at Mall of America under this current mandate,” Grap said. “Again, this takes everyone working together to ensure the safety of guests visiting Mall of America.”

Target invaded by anti-maskers

Target was confronted last Saturday with a group of about 20 dedicated and rowdy anti-maskers that invaded their store refusing to wear masks. Their actions put themselves, workers, and the other customers at risk of contracting COVID-19.

“I was made aware [by a coworker] of the anti-mask protesters about 30 minutes before they showed up… No manager or team leader told us or gave us a strategy plan beforehand,” explained a store worker who wished to remain anonymous.

“I started seeing people piling in without masks, and there were a number of instances happening right away of people chanting ‘freedom’ as they walked around the store in groups,” the worker described. “There was a man up front that was offered a mask for free, as is our store policy, who took one and then immediately threw it on the ground.”

The store’s intercom announces that masks are required for shoppers within the store, but the recent protest shows that those rules aren’t strictly enforced.

“Security did not threaten to kick them out, and this is after one of them was verbally harassing an employee in produce and a customer trying to shop,” the worker explained. “The head of HR in our store encouraged us to continue business as usual and treat the anti-masker like any other guest.”

The worker was told that Target doesn’t have a legal protocol that allows the store to remove shoppers who refuse to wear masks.

“They could have doubled down and actually enforced the mask policy,” the worker added. “Security said, ‘We can only ask guests at the door to wear a mask. We can’t control if they take it off in the store… There’s nothing we can do. Sorry.’”

The MSR reached out to Target for comment but at press time had not received a response.

Photo by Amudalat Ajasa Minnesotans who fail to follow the mask mandate within businesses can be subject to petty misdemeanor charges and fines.

MN COVID-19 laws

Minnesota’s Mask Mandate that has been in effect since July 25, 2020, per Gov. Walz’s executive order, requires Minnesotans to wear a face-covering inside all indoor businesses and public indoor spaces.

Citizens who fail to follow the mask mandate within businesses can be subject to petty misdemeanor charges and a fine of up to $100.

Per the mandate, businesses (and their owners and management) can be subject to criminal charges: a misdemeanor, up to a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail for the failure to execute the mandate. They can face civil enforcement and fines up to $25,000.

One Comment on “Many retailers reluctant to enforce COVID rules”

  1. I love that the MN Spokesman-Recorder is running an article on this subject. It’s great that we have a statewide mask mandate, but I do feel that our businesses need better support so they can feel like they can better support their employees in all of this, otherwise, there’s no need to ‘threaten’ punitive damages for non-compliance. Thank you for writing about this.

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