Dear Kroger – please stop endangering your staff and your customers

As part of efforts to combat the current COVID-19 pandemic, Monroe County Indiana has for many months now had a mask mandate: masks are required inside in most public places, and as currently written that mandate will stay in place until COVID-19 cases fall below 50 cases per 100,000. Monroe County has fared better than many counties in the State of Indiana in terms of incidence of the disease with this as one of several contributing factors .

However, there are no penalties for failure to comply with the mask mandate for individuals or businesses. Compliance is effectively voluntary.

Target and Fresh Thyme have chosen to comply. In Target  and Fresh Thyme in Bloomington essentially everyone in the store is wearing a mask and I have never seen an employee of either business without a mask in the store. At Target compliance is enforced by a staff member at the entrance. I was in Target recently when in through the door walked a family of four, lead by a very large man wearing a t-shirt with an image of an assault rifle on the front. No masks. A Target staff member about half the size of the man of the family greeted them and informed that masks were required in the store and pointed them at a supply of masks near the door. The man stopped for a second, turned around, and said “kids we have to put on masks to shop here.” They did and went on their way. I was very impressed with them and experienced a moment of having my stereotypes damaged as a result of the courteousness of this gentleman.

Fresh Thyme has a different system. At the Fresh Thyme near East 3rd there is big sign about masks right inside the entrance and then a table inside with hand sanitizer and a supply of masks for people to use.

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Kroger has clearly decided not to comply with the mask mandate. For many years I have shopped often at the College Mall Kroger. Walk into Kroger and you will see many customers and occasionally a staff member not wearing a mask. In the photo below you can clearly see three people at the checkout not wearing masks; there are others in this area not visible but also unmasked.

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Kroger Management have either informed their staff not to bother people or potentially worse yet has informed its staff not to enforce Monroe County’s mask mandate. Kroger isn’t even doing anything to enable people to comply. Kroger has three entrances. Below is what you see as you walk in the door. As you walk in, neither hand sanitizer nor masks are in sight. There is actually a dispenser of hand sanitizer wipes at this entrance, not clear in the picture, but it was empty at the time I took the picture. The details are different at each entrance, but you get the point. 

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I’m not going to bother debating the science of masks as a way to fight the transmission of COVID-19, because there simply is no debate.

What Kroger is doing right now is failing to comply with local government mandates and endangering its staff and its customers as a result.

So I have a simple request: Dear Kroger, please stop endangering your staff and your customers, and enforce Monroe County’s current mask mandate.

Clearly Kroger has the means to do this. There are tables by the door hawking job opportunities. If I walked into the store naked, I am sure that Kroger would find staff to enforce Monroe County’s “clothing mandate” even though nothing about me nude is either bad or good enough to give someone a fatal heart attack or stroke. If I walked into Kroger with a .22 caliber pistol and started spraying bullets around the store certainly Kroger security would act quickly even if I didn’t hit anyone and even though .22 caliber bullets produce much milder symptoms than many other forms of bullets. 

But Kroger seems perfectly comfortable letting people walk around inside the store not fully clothed according to local regulations, spraying around droplets of liquid that threaten the lives of their staff and their customers.

I’m actually pretty attached to the College Mall Kroger. Many years ago a friend started working at the coffee shop there and as a result I started visiting there to get coffee. During the worst parts of the lockdown in 2019 I would often mask up to get a coffee treat in the afternoon. On many days the wonderful staff of the coffee shop were the only humans that I saw in person other than my wife. And I recall several favorable aspects of Kroger operations over the years. For example, years ago as Bloomingfoods was treating its staff badly Kroger was busy having excellent relationships with its Union and staff. (As the grandson of a “union man” am a person who in general supports unions.)

But I’ve hit a breaking point. I’m no longer going to support Kroger either if they are intentionally enabling people to shop without masks or if they are simply being passive and not bothering. Will I still sneak in and out to get coffee from a group of ladies who know me and start making my regular drink when they see me coming? I’m not sure. But I will shop other places for any- and every- thing else even when other stores are more expensive. Funerals aren’t cheap, after all, and I’m not quite ready to attend my own as a result of Kroger’s lack of concern for my safety. The current Kroger policy is a also threat to my buddies at the coffee shop, who are regularly exposed to customers without masks. I don’t like that one bit and will not support a store that operates in a way that is a threat to its own staff.

Kroger: please enforce the Monroe County mask mandate and protect your staff and your customers. Target, Fresh Thyme, and others have shown that it can be done. You can, too, if you care about the health and lives of your staff and your customers.