RICHMOND, Va. -- - In the days since Virginia lifted mask requirements for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a patchwork is emerging of large retailers who are lifting all masking requirements for the vaccinated and smaller shops who are not because they cannot easily tell who has not gotten a COVID-19 shot.
Target became the latest nationwide retail chain to lift mask requirements on Monday, following guidance from the CDC that the fully immunized are protected from getting and spreading the deadly virus in most settings.
In the Bellevue neighborhood in Richmond, Robert Kocher is the store manager of Once Upon a Vine, which stocks 3,500 wines and hundreds of beers. His family has decided to not lift their masking requirement for customers because of the tight aisles and the fact they do not truly know who is vaccinated.
“It’s tricky. We definitely try to be nice and kind about it and ask people as they come in,” Kocher said. “We’re just concerned with some people saying they’re vaccinated, and we can’t really prove that.”
Although the majority of their customers so far happily complied with their policy, Kocher said there have been a couple of tense moments when customers rudely pushed back, claiming they were vaccinated.
“We try to be kind to them and ask that they just follow the policy that we’re asking for,” Kocher said. “I know nobody wants to wear a mask, but you just have to do it for your own safety and health.”
It can be a difficult situation for businesses who cannot easily space out customers indoors and for those still concerned about taking off their masks in public spaces despite their vaccination status.
“The hard thing about the vaccine is if you’re wearing a mask, I can see you wearing a mask, and I know that you’re protecting yourself and me. But it’s not like we turn blue or something once we’re vaccinated,” said Dr. Laura Hungerford, who heads the Public Health Department at Virginia Tech.
Dr. Hungerford said the COVID-19 vaccines have proven so effective against preventing the disease and even spreading it, those who have been fully vaccinated can view their shots as the protection against the virus in the same way masks did for so long.
“To be in a group of people who are all fully immunized, all wearing our masks because there is a mask mandate isn’t good science,” Dr. Hungerford said. “Even if they got exposed to COVID, they’re not going to get sick. They’re going to shed it at such a low rate if they do excrete the virus at all, that they’re not really a threat to people.”
Because of the protection the vaccines provide, Dr. Hungerford said those with both shots do not really need to know exactly who has received a vaccine. On the other hand, those who have not to need to adhere to mask guidelines to protect themselves and others.
“If you’re vaccinated, you’re taking that personal responsibility. If you’re not vaccinated, then you wear a mask to take that personal responsibility. We have options to protect ourselves and others,” she said.
Still, all three vaccines approved for use in the U.S. are not 100% effective against preventing illness or spread of the virus and variants continue to develop in other countries. Dr. Hungerford does expect a new wave of infections here because of increasing vaccination numbers and their availability.
“For a new variant to occur, you have to get the virus, it has to replicate and mutate within you, and you have to spread it to others. So if you’re vaccinated, none of that happens,” she said. “You can pick one or the other; you should pick one or the other. The vaccine is so much easier.”
Tuesday marks “It’s Our Shot, Virginia Statewide Day of Action,” a campaign encouraging Virginians to share their vaccination stories publicly and those who have not yet done so to get vaccinated. Dr. Hungerford will be administering COVID-19 shots at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg and urges others to find a clinic tomorrow near their home