In a pandemic, working at a grocery store is risky — and vital

With the threat of the Coronavirus growing daily across the country stores are finding it impossible to keep certain products such at toilet paper in stock leaving consumers with empty shelves and few options.

IRON RANGE — Target and CVS on Thursday announced that its stores will require shoppers to wear masks at their locations as soon as next week.

The move comes a day after Walmart said its stores would require masks starting next Monday as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country. The news has received mixed reactions from people who live in small cities on the Iron Range, showcasing a growing divide — often politicized — between people choosing to follow federal and state suggestions to wear masks while practicing social distancing and others who argue against such precautions.

In Minnesota, health officials have been reporting an increasing number of cases in July as the virus continues to spread in the northeast part of the state.

In St. Louis County, at least 254 people have the coronavirus and 16 died after being infected with the virus, according to data from the state Health Department on Thursday. Regional health officials say they are seeing more cases this month outside of Duluth and in cities across the Iron Range.

Target will implement its mask requirement on Aug. 1 and CVS on July 20. They join a host of companies — including Walmart, Menards and Caribou Coffee — to issue mask-wearing requirements for customers or staff, displaying some of the strongest statements from American companies about the recommended health benefits of wearing masks.

More than 20 Democratic and Republican governors have required state residents to wear masks in public.

In Minnesota, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz says he is considering the possibility of introducing a new rule in light of pressure from the Minnesota Medical Association, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and a growing number of government officials.

St. Louis County Commissioner Patrick Boyle last week penned a letter to Walz, urging him “to mandate the wearing of masks in indoor places statewide as soon as possible.” The Duluth City Council on Monday night passed an emergency ordinance, effective immediately, requiring people to wear masks in government buildings, churches, restaurants and retail stores. The cities of Hibbing and Virginia do not have mask mandates, though officials encourage residents to follow CDC and state health guidelines.

CVS has stores in Duluth and a location inside the Target in Virginia. It will start requiring masks next Monday, the company announced.

“With the recent spike in COVID-19 infections, we’re joining others in taking the next step and requiring all customers to wear face coverings when entering any of our stores throughout the country…,” CVS said in a news release. “To be clear, we’re not asking our store employees to play the role of enforcer. What we are asking is that customers help protect themselves and those around them by listening to the experts and heeding the call to wear a face covering.”

Target, one of the largest retailers in Minnesota, has stores in Virginia, Grand Rapids and Duluth. Its requirements will start Aug. 1, the company confirmed to the Mesabi Tribune on Thursday.

A Target spokesperson told the Mesabi Tribune that its stores are “requiring guests to wear masks or face coverings in all of our stores, except for those with underlying medical conditions and young children.”

“This builds on more than 80 percent of our stores that already require guests to wear face coverings due to local and state regulations,” the spokesperson wrote in email. “Given the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the role masks play in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, our store team members also already wear masks when they come to work, which we provide for them.”

Target will post signs in its stores, play audio reminders and station employees at store entrances to remind guests to wear masks. The store will provide customers masks at the store entrances to those who do not have one.

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer on Wednesday announced that about 65 percent of its 5,000-plus stores, which includes Walmart and Sam’s Club, are located in areas where there is already a government mandate to wear masks.

St. Louis County has at least four Walmart stores in the cities of Hibbing, Mountain Iron, Cloquet and Duluth. Itasca County has one Walmart store in Grand Rapids. There is a Sam’s Club in Hermantown.

Walmart in Hibbing and Target in Virginia have become prime shopping centers for thousands of families on the Iron Range during the coronavirus pandemic.

Customers will see signs posted at the front of the store and staff working as a newly hired “health ambassador.” That person will be stationed near the entrances to remind customers to wear masks.

“Ambassadors will receive special training to help make the process as smooth as possible for customers,” Walmart said. “The ambassadors, identifiable by their black polo shirts, will work with customers who show up at a store without a face covering to try and find a solution.”

The retailer has not explained what the solutions may entail or whether it would provide masks to customers who come into the stores without one.

Leah Ryan and Angie Riebe contributed to this report.

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