SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — State leaders familiar with coronavirus guidelines tell NewsChannel 9 that Wegmans’ policy to not refuse service to customers without masks undermines executive orders and the state code.
NewsChannel 9 began investigating after several emails to the Your Stories team show a consistent worry among Wegmans customers about other shoppers not wearing masks and the managers’ lack of action removing violators from the store.
One shopper, a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital, says she made a quick stop at the Wegmans on Route 57, where she encountered a man not wearing a mask.
She recalls, “I thought in my head, ‘should I say something? Should I not say something?’ I said, very politely, I said ‘sir, I think you forgot your mask.’ And then he snapped. Told me: ‘COVID wasn’t real.’
I pointed to my scrub top and said ‘you know, I just left the hospital. It’s a real thing.'”
In tears, the woman went to the cashier who said she wasn’t allowed to do anything more than offer the person a free mask.
Wegmans’ policy, posted on its website, reads: “Short of refusing entrance to our stores, we are doing everything we can to educate our customers and stress the importance of voluntary compliance to keep themselves and everyone around them safe.”
It continues: “Through ongoing monitoring, we continue to see 99% compliance with the mask mandates from our customers. While we would love for that to be 100%, we have to balance that 1% with the risks of asking our employees to confront unmasked customers. Thank you to all who voluntarily comply.”
A regular shopper at the Fairmount Wegmans, Kevin Hayden, tells NewsChannel 9 he’s seen several customers not wearing masks over his last few grocery runs.
“It’s frustrating when you see someone at high risk standing next to someone without a mask,” Hayden tells NewsChannel 9: “I’ve also never witnessed a Wegmans employee ask a customer to put a mask on. They’re allowed to go through the line and buy their groceries.”
Hayden, an attorney, says, “When I’ve gone up to the staff at Wegmans, including the manager, they told me that it is not the law, they don’t have to require mask-wearing, which I disagree with.”
Leaders within New York State government disagree too.
Section 66-3.2 of the state code reads: “Business operators and building owners… shall deny admittance to any person who fails to comply with this section and shall require or compel such persons’ removal.”
Exceptions apply to people with disabilities or children less than two years old who could be put in danger by wearing a mask.
Most of that compliance falls on the overburdened local governments.
Onondaga County inspectors have received numerous complaints about Wegmans customers not wearing masks, but with limited proof, haven’t given any fines. A warning was issued to the location near Great Northern Mall, but it appears to have been appealed by the company with no further action.
In Cayuga County, the Board of Health has discussed the recurring problem. When hearing of the policy, one person on the call said, “That’s surprising. I always thought of them as good corporate citizens.”
Another member of the board, who spoke with Wegmans corporate in Rochester, reported to her group: “I just don’t think they believe in it. That’s just the bottom line.”
Wegmans didn’t answer NewsChannel 9’s questions but forwarded a link to the written policy on the company’s website.
Complaints about any company not following coronavirus safety rules can file a complaint by submitting a form to Onondaga County or submitting a form to New York State. Pictures that support the claim will likely lead to better results.