By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Food City president and CEO Steve Smith announced during a virtual press conference Friday morning that the grocery chain will be requiring customers to wear masks at all of its locations beginning Thursday, July 23.
Smith said the decision was made after a recent spike in COVID-19 cases throughout Food City’s footprint, which includes portions of Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia.
“We’ve decided to have a mask mandate in our stores,” Smith said. “That mandate and requirement will take effect July 23. People will be required to put a face covering on when they come into our stores, and the reason is we know face coverings are the most successful thing we can do to get this virus slowed down.”
Smith said the measure will take effect on July 23 to provide ample time for safety managers at the front of the stores to be properly trained and educated on some exemptions that exist for people with certain medical conditions. Also, signage is being printed up to help provide direction to customers, and hand-sanitizing stations are also being mobilized ahead of the mandate.
“We want to be sure (the safety managers) have the right message for customers when they come into our stores,” he said. “They’ll encourage our customers, and to be honest, require customers to put their masks on. We will have some masks to hand out if people don’t have them.”
Given Food City’s presence in four different states, policies regarding masks for customers have differed from location to location. Kentucky and Virginia both have statewide mask mandates in effect, but Tennessee Governor Bill Lee only recently gave county mayors the option of instituting such orders on a county-by-county basis. Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy put a mandate in effect last week requiring people to wear masks in public places.
Food City began requiring its associates to wear face coverings on May 1 following guidance from the CDC. With Food City associates wearing masks during 8- to 10-hour shifts, Smith called it a “small sacrifice” for customers to wear face coverings during their shopping trips in order to help slow the spread of the virus and help return our region and country to some sense of normalcy.
“We need to get our kids back in school,” he said. “Gosh, we want to see high school football, college football. That may sound trivial to some, but it’s an important part of our culture in the United States. We want things to get back to normal.
“Help protect yourself, help protect our associates, help protect your neighbors, and help protect the economy, because we don’t want to have another economic shutdown like we had a few months ago.”
For those who do not want to wear a face covering, Smith offered a reminder about online shopping, curbside pickup and home delivery options that exist.
“If somebody has a passion that they don’t want to wear a face covering, let somebody else shop for them or let them do their online shopping and pick it up at the curb and keep people safe,” he said. “If we’ll all work together, 6 feet apart, we can get through this.”