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VERIFY: Are masks required at grocery stores in DC, Maryland and Virginia?

Stores are allowed to make their own policies, including requiring customers to wear masks, our Verify expert says.

WASHINGTON — QUESTION:

Are shoppers required to wear a mask at grocery stores in D.C., Virginia and Maryland?

ANSWER:

Face masks are required in Maryland and D.C. In Virginia, the governor strongly encourages shoppers to wear a face covering in the supermarket, but it is not required. 

Stores are also allowed to implement their own policies for customers to wear a mask, as long as the policy is not discriminatory.

SOURCES:

Alena Yarmosky: Press secretary for Gov. Ralph Northam 

D.C. government coronavirus website: "Guidance on Mayor's Order for Residents and Businesses"

Gov. Larry Hogan: Emergency Order 20-04-15-01

Emily Durell: Deputy press secretary for Gov. Hogan

Kelly Tubman Hardy: Partner at Hogan Lovells

PROCESS:

In early April the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended cloth masks or face coverings be worn by all in public spaces.

RELATED: CDC recommends face coverings, but Trump says he won't wear one

The CDC specifically recommended wearing them in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain, listing grocery stores and pharmacies as two examples. But the new guidance sparked confusion about where masks are necessary.

So we're verifying, are shoppers required to wear a mask at a grocery store in DC, Virginia and Maryland?

Our Verify researchers turned to local leaders in the DMV.

In Virginia, the governor has strongly encouraged customers to wear masks at the grocery store, but hasn't required them, according to Alena Yarmosky, Northam's press secretary.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus website for D.C. says masks are required in retail food sellers.

"Under the new Mayor’s Order, the following individuals are required to wear a mask or face covering: employees, customers, and visitors of hotels, retail food sellers, taxis, ride-sharing companies, or other private transportation providers," the website reads.

On May 13, Mayor Bowser extended the emergency stay-at-home order until June 8. The requirement for shoppers to wear face masks in stores was also extended, according to Susana Castillo, a spokesperson for Mayor Bowser.

RELATED: DC's stay-at-home order extended to June 8. Here's what that means

Shoppers must wear a face covering in Maryland too, under an emergency order signed by Gov. Larry Hogan. A spokesperson for the governor confirmed that the face mask requirement continues to be in place, even as the state moves into phase one of reopening. 

RELATED: Maryland reopens May 15; Montgomery, Prince George's counties won't

In a statement, the governor's Office of Legal Counsel further explained the mandate: "Emergency order 20-04-15-01 requires that customers use face coverings while inside a grocery store. This does not preclude stores from additional health and safety policies if they wish to, or from denying service to customers that break the law or those policies. Penalties for violating the emergency order range up to one year of imprisonment or a $5,000 fine. The emergency order authorizes the Maryland Department of Health to make directives to implement the order, and the Department has advised that cloth face coverings should not be used by anyone with trouble breathing, and that reasonable accommodations should be provided to anyone with a disability and is unable to wear a mask."

Our Verify researchers also looked at the policies for seven major grocery chains.

Safeway, Giant, Wegmans, Harris Teeter, Target and Whole Foods say they’re following state and local rules about masks. Whole Foods is also providing masks at the door for anyone without one.

 At Costco, the CEO announced on May 4 that they are requiring face coverings in their stores.

Stores are free to make their own policies, so long as it fits within state and federal law, according to lawyer Kelly Tubman Hardy, who has represented clients in the food industry.

"In the same way that a store can put up a sign that says no shirt, no shoes, no service, they can require customers to wear masks," Hardy said. "There is established common law that stores can create reasonable policies, as long as those policies are not discriminatory and requiring everyone to wear a mask is not discriminatory." 

So we can verify that in D.C. and Maryland, you are required to wear a mask, but in Virginia there's no such state mandate, although it's encouraged.

No matter where you are, our expert said, a store is within their rights to deny you entry if you break their mask policy.

"We're talking about what they can do, not what it might be advisable to do," Hardy said. "And I think that stores need to balance the desire to establish a safe environment for their customers and their employees against the possibility that an interaction with a customer who is refusing to wear a mask could escalate and become confrontational." 

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