NYC supermarket enters ‘hornets nest’ in dropping mask mandate

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Morton Williams customers are sharply divided over the grocery chain’s decision to no longer require vaccinated shoppers and employees to wear masks — a scenario that’s likely playing out at retail establishments across the country.

The controversy kicked off on Monday when the popular supermarket emailed customers about its decision to comply with the new CDC coronavirus guidelines starting Wednesday, when New York state will drop its mask mandate.

The short email simply explained the new policy and said the Big Apple grocer “will not ask for proof of vaccination.”

But it resulted in a “hornets nest” of backlash from mask advocates, according to a follow-up email the chain sent out a few hours later.

“We recently sent you an email explaining our policy regarding masks,” the follow-up email said. “In doing so, we knew that we were stepping into a hornet’s nest and that many would feel this is a premature decision better suited for a later day.”

The follow-up email explained that Morton Williams stores will put up signs “encouraging” customers and employees to continue to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status. It also reminded customers to please “to be respectful to those who do not feel comfortable.”

That resulted in a whole new set of stinging criticisms — this time from people eager to ditch their masks, the chain’s co-owner Avi Kaner told The Post.

“Have you decided what percentage of people who are ‘uncomfortable’ will continue to dictate protocol for those of us who are done with masks?” one customer wrote, according to redacted copies of replies provided to The Post. “Perhaps 10 percent or less? You really need to know what will allow you to allow the ‘comfortable’ folks to prevail!”

That sentiment was countered by emails like this from mask advocates: “I’d rather be safe than sorry and I think you’re making a mistake! I’ll continue wearing my mask indoors, as I believe any intelligent, well-informed, scientifically literate person will do!”

“We were not expecting the level of passion on both extremes,” Kaner said. Some customers said they would continue to double mask indoors despite being vaccinated — and wanted others to as well, Kaner said. Other customers were resentful at even the suggestion that they consider wearing a mask, he said. 

Not everyone who responded complained, of course. “I got hundreds of emails from customers thanking us for asking people to be courteous and respectful,” Kaner added.

Morton Williams is not likely alone. The CDC has been criticized for a hard-to-enforce mask policy that requires people to use their judgment, including masks for crowded situations.

It has put retailers in a tough spot even as many stores adopt the CDC’s new guidelines in municipalities that allow it, including large national chains Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Starbucks.

Labor unions who represent retail workers, including supermarket employees, have already said they are opposed to the CDC’s new guidance because it puts their members at risk. They argue that there is no way to know whether someone who is not wearing a mask has been vaccinated.

Gov. Cuomo on Monday said vaccinated New Yorkers will be free to go maskless in most indoor settings starting on Wednesday, including businesses that allow it.

The Empire State was the among the hardest hit by COVID-19, resulting in strict rules requiring masks in all public settings since April 2020. That, combined with crowding issues in NYC, could make the transition to no masks more difficult here, business owners say.

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