Coronavirus Update: Some Local Stores Now Requiring Customers to Wear Masks

A sign on the entry door (at right) at New Kam Man supermarket informs customers that masks must be worn. Photo by Kari Jensen.

A sign on the entry door (at right) at New Kam Man supermarket informs customers that masks must be worn. Photo by Kari Jensen.

This story is by Kari Jensen.

As coronavirus lockdown is in full swing in New York, some pharmacies and a few stores on the Lower East Side and in Chinatown are requiring that customers wear masks or face coverings. It’s just one of many steps retailers are taking to protect staff and customers from COVID-19 spread. Others include installing protective barriers at cashiers’ stands and marking floors with blue tape, spaced six feet apart, to ensure that people social distance in checkout lines.

“I think honestly that everyone should be wearing a mask,” said pharmacist and manager John Karnaby, who wore a mask while at work at Levitt Pharmacy on Grand Street. “Soon it might be mandatory.”

Wearing masks is not mandated in New York, but a Los Angeles order requires that customers wear face coverings or masks when shopping at essential businesses, as of April 10. Workers at many Los Angeles businesses now must wear masks or face coverings, too.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public to help slow the spread of the virus. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also has urged people to do the same.

A customer, wearing a mask and gloves, exits Levitt Pharmacy. Photo by Kari Jensen.

A customer, wearing a mask and gloves, exits Levitt Pharmacy. Photo by Kari Jensen.

Levitt Pharmacy placed signs on its door and picture window, which state the store policy to: “wear a mask before entering.” Karnaby also has donated some masks and hand sanitizer to the New York City Police Department’s 7th Precinct, which serves the Lower East Side. There continues to be global shortage of protective masks. Levitt Pharmacy had masks ($20/20 masks package) and hand sanitizer for sale as of April 11.

When bike messenger Pedro Busted made a quick stop at Levitt Pharmacy, he parked his bike inside, at the store’s entrance, and then he pulled his neck gaiter up over his mouth and nose. “It’s definitely a hassle,” Busted said, noting that in normal circumstances he would not wear his gaiter this way. “But it’s a must. It’s a course that we got to take.”

As of April 11, Target did not require customers to wear masks or face coverings, but the national retailer has started monitoring the number of people allowed inside its stores. It also began providing disposable masks and gloves to its team members.

New Kam Man supermarket had some masks for sale ($50/50 masks package) the weekend of April 3-5. But the store also posted a sign on its door stating that masks were required to enter. Some customers, who were not wearing face coverings, saw the door sign and then just walked away April 5. The supermarket on Canal Street temporarily closed April 6, with no specific reopening date set. Customers were told to call New Kam Man to check for updates, said a manager in charge, who declined to give his name.

New Yorkers with various face coverings, plus one woman wore her extra masks like elbow pads. Photo by Kari Jensen.

New Yorkers with various face coverings, plus one woman wore her extra masks like elbow pads. Photos by Kari Jensen.

On the street, New Yorkers can be seen wearing medical masks, homemade masks, and various face coverings created from items such as bandanas, scarves, T-shirts, fabric scraps, dish towels, neck gaiters, and hoods of coats worn backwards. But there also are people not wearing masks or face coverings.

Over on East Broadway, the Forever Health Pharmacy had masks for sale, as of April 11 ($23/20 masks package). That pharmacy has a sign in its door, which states: “Please wear masks and gloves before entering the pharmacy for your safety and our safety.”

Sue Jing wore a mask while out walking near Forever Health Pharmacy April 7. She said it is more common to see stores that require customers to wear masks in Flushing Chinatown than it is in Manhattan Chinatown. “In Flushing, yes,” Jing said. “Those stores, the big supermarkets, there are people outside the store. They give you gloves and they give you masks before you go in.”