This story was updated on Sept. 9, 2021 to include comment from County Commissioner Skip Alston about the process for warning and fining businesses who violate the county mask mandate.
What’s the point of a mask mandate if businesses don’t enforce them? That’s the question that was on the minds of many customers and staff in a Harris Teeter off of Lawndale Drive in Greensboro, NC. On Friday afternoon, video was captured of a woman who was accompanied by another younger woman and a small child, yelling about masks at another customer who was ahead of her in a check out lane. While footage of the beginning of the conflict was not caught on camera, the unmasked woman can be heard yelling, “Shut the fuck up” and about how her relatives didn’t die so that she could lose her constitutional rights to not wear a mask.
Guilford County instituted a mask mandate on Aug. 13 starting at 5 p.m. The mandate requires individuals to wear masks “when indoors in all business, establishments and public places. Failure to comply with this mask rule could result in leveraged civil penalties.”
Multiple studies have found that masks are highly effective in blocking the release of respiratory droplets that contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
One of the managers on duty, who wore a nametag bearing the name “Scott,” stated that it was corporate policy to not remove customers from the store if they refused to wear a mask.
On their website, Harris Teeter, which is headquartered in North Carolina and has 261 locations across the southeast, states that they are “strongly encouraging everyone to wear a mask in [their] stores.”
An email obtained by TCB includes further information about the grocery chain’s police on masks and how they are enforcing it given the county mask mandate.
“Harris Teeter is aware of Guilford County’s mask requirement, and our associates are compliant,” the email states. “We will do everything we can to encourage shoppers to comply including displaying signage and offering a mask to anyone who does not have one.
1. All store associates will be required to wear masks.
2. Harris Teeter will offer noncompliant shoppers a disposable mask as long as we have a supply on hand.
3. Only a member of management will engage noncompliant shoppers. We will remind any shoppers that mask requirement exists and the restrictions require the wearing of masks/face coverings. We will inform the shopper that we would appreciate their compliance – for their safety and for the safety of our valued associates
4. Harris Teeter associates will not be put in a position to refuse entry to shoppers. We will do our best to inform the shopper and encourage them to comply.”
Several customers and staff members appeared upset by the woman’s outburst. One staff member told TCB that the woman is a frequent shopper at the location and always comes in without a mask. They also noted that the customer has had COVID-19. TCB could not confirm that as a fact. Other employees noted that management has never turned her away.
According to the county’s mask mandate, civil penalties may be enforced on businesses or individuals who do not comply with the rules. The rules note that the county can impose sanctions starting with $50 after a warning, then $300, then $1,500 for individuals. For businesses, the fines are higher, starting at $300, going up to $500 then to $1,500.
However, Jim Secor, public information officer for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, said in an email on Friday that so far, the sheriff’s office has not issued any fines. In addition to sheriff’s deputies, other county employees such as environmental health inspectors or public health educators can also enforce the mask mandate.
UPDATED (9/9/21): County commissioner Skip Alston also noted that he doesn’t believe any businesses have been fined yet.
“The process, number one we try to educate people,” Alston said. “Then once we educate them, we come back and give them a warning; we try to bend over backwards to try not to fine them.”
If businesses don’t comply after a few warnings, then they get put on a “hot list,” Alston said. If county officials have to go back a third time, then they will institute a fine. If businesses don’t comply after being fined multiple times, then the county will shut the business down.
Because the mask mandate hasn’t been in effect for that long, Alston said that he’s trying to be patient and educate both customers and management first. During a shopping trip to Five Below and At Home, Alston said he saw customers in the store without masks. When he approached the managers on duty, they told him that they were told by corporate or upper management that they either couldn’t enforce masks or that they were optional for those who are vaccinated.
“I told them, ‘That’s not true,’” he said. “It’ll hopefully be a teachable moment for them. And they were both courteous. I think people want to do it but get misinformation from their managers.”
Because of this, Alston said that the county will take the next 30 days to focus just on educating the public before starting to fine any businesses.
“A lot of people are not aware of what exactly is the process concerning the mandate,” he said. “It’s not our intentional to fine someone.”
In the meantime, Alston said that customers are welcome to report any businesses who are not complying with the mandate.
The number to report Guilford County businesses not following the mask mandate is 336-641-7638.