British Columbia

As retail stores reopen, will customers be required to wear masks?

Dr. Bonnie Henry says she will not require that shoppers wear a mask because some cannot and it's not the most effective measure to prevent the spread.

Dr. Henry won't require all shoppers to wear masks because some cannot and it's not the most effective measure

Customers are provided with masks before entering the T&T Supermarket in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Stores along Robson Street have begun stripping the plywood from their storefronts as they prepare to reopen in a few days.

But the shopping experience may vary from store to store, particularly when it comes to whether customers will be required to wear face masks. 

T&T Supermarket, for example, is asking customers to wear non-medical masks before entering its stores starting May 11. If shoppers don't have a mask, they will be handed one.

Since April 20, the Asian grocer has also been conducting non-contact temperature checks at entrances using an infrared thermometer.

Security guard at the entrance to T&T Supermarket checks the temperature of customers before they enter the store. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Whole Foods, both in the U.S. and Canada, requires that its employees wear a mask. It's also requesting customers wear one and, if they don't have one, will offer them a mask at the store entrance.

Security guards working at both Whole Foods and T&T told CBC News that if someone refuses to wear a mask, they won't be turned away. 

Other stores like London Drugs and Costco in Canada don't ask customers to put on a mask. 

Masks not a requirement 

And the province's health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, says she will not demand shoppers wear them either.

"I really don't believe we should be requiring it," said Henry during her daily briefing on Tuesday afternoon. 

"There are many reasons why some people cannot wear a mask, a face covering — people who have certain respiratory illnesses, it can be very challenging and can cause breathing problems," she said. 

The thinking around the value of non-medical masks has changed over the course of the pandemic and while it won't necessarily protect you from the virus, it can somewhat lessen the risk of you infecting others. 

Yaletown Starbucks employee keeps the electronic door open as a customer orders from a table placed at the entrance in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Starbucks Canada which plans to resume operations in 85 per cent of its stores by the end of May is asking customers, among other safety measures, to wear a "facial covering" when visiting stores to grab and go. 

But if you don't have one, you'll still be able to get your tall flat white. 

"As this is a request and not a requirement, our partners will continue to serve all customers regardless of whether they're wearing a facial covering or not," said the company in an email to CBC news. 

Dr. Henry said masks can be useful during short periods of time where maintaining a physical distance is challenging. 

"So, the bottom line is it's a measure. It's not the most effective measure we have to prevent transmission and there are some situations where it may be useful." 

She also asked people not to stigmatize others for their choice — whether it's to wear one or not.

Workers take down plywood boards painted with murals covering up entrances of retail stores on Robson Street in Vancouver as stores get ready to reopen. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Last Wednesday, the province revealed its reopening plans and included guidelines for retail stores. Some of the core principles of physical distancing and screening for symptoms are standard. 

Here are some of the measures retailers have been asked to follow: 

  • Reduce lineups by having more checkouts open.
  • Install physical plexiglass barriers between checkouts.
  • Frequently clean "high-touch" areas.
  • Make accommodations for higher-risk groups such as seniors and those with underlying health conditions. 
  • Increase or encourage online shopping, deliveries and/or pickups to reduce in-store visits.
  • Increase shopping hours to spread out the number of customers in-store at one time.
  • Encourage or require non-medical masks while shopping to reduce spreading of droplets.
  • Create messaging to inform customers not to shop while sick. 
  • Routinely screen customers for symptoms. 

Restrictions on large gatherings of 50 or more people do not apply to grocery stores, malls or big box stores. 

If you decide to wear a reusable mask, follow these steps to ensure you put your mask on properly:


  • An earlier version of this story stated that Whole Foods is requiring customers and staff to wear face masks. Whole Foods has since clarified that it is only requesting customers wear masks, but is still requiring employees to wear them.
    May 13, 2020 7:46 AM PT


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