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NEVADA VIEWS: Mask mandate puts retailers in bad spot

In response to the pandemic, Nevada retailers have worked tirelessly to assure the safety of our employees and our customers. Investments have been made in installing Plexiglas shields at checkouts. Employees have been mandated to wear masks, and social distancing guidelines are in place. Limits have been imposed on the number of customers in stores.

This is in addition to the initial closures of nonessential stores for a protracted time, followed by curbside delivery and limited openings at a time when retail supply chains were stressed. These precautions were all meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But even with these precautions, COVID-19 infections are elevated in Nevada. As a result, Gov. Steve Sisolak has extended Phase Two of his Roadmap to Recovery until the end of July and has issued an order that requires people to wear a face covering when in public places. In other words, people not wearing face coverings are to be prohibited from entering businesses. Those medically unable to wear a mask are required to wear face shields.

At issue for retailers is the requirement to enforce the order.

Posting signs and reminding people to cover their faces is not enough to comply. If retailers do not confront non-mask wearing people and ask them to leave their stores, they will face significant fines and even loss of business licenses. The fines are significant and are between $13,000 and $139,000 per incident. OSHA inspectors have been out and about in an effort to show retailers this is serious and that they will follow through with fines and the revocation of business licenses. Phone lines have even been set up to report businesses that may have customers in their stores not wearing face coverings.

This has put retailers in a horrible spot. They have all the responsibility to enforce the order but no authority whatsoever to make it happen. Signs have been posted, and employees are doing their best to educate the noncompliant. Yet, some people refuse to comply and enter stores nonetheless, or even remove their mask after entry.

Law enforcement has made it clear that they will not respond. On one hand, the governor requires retailers to enforce the order but gives them absolutely no support to make it happen. Worse, similar incidents around the country have led to violence, assault and even the killing of a store employee who attempted to enforce a “no mask, no service” policy.

If the governor wants to implement a face-covering mandate, he should rethink how it is enforced. Retailers are willing to put up signs and remind people that face coverings are mandatory. Businesses should not have to worry about getting into a confrontation with a customer and risking possible violence in order to avoid a costly fine or the loss of a business license. The governor can, however, work with law enforcement to respond.

We all want to keep people safe and our stores open. Retailers are willing to do their part, provided those expectations are reasonable. Putting retailers into an ugly and non-winnable spot with little support only exacerbates the problem.

— Bryan Wachter is senior vice president of government and public affairs for the Retail Association of Nevada.

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