The American Apparel & Footwear Association on Friday sent a letter to President Trump, citing research showing that "widespread usage of face masks is an effective brake on the spread of COVID-19," and calling on the administration to "institute federal face mask guidelines to assist retail stores as the country continues efforts to safely reopen."
Versions of the letter were also sent to the National Governors Association, National Association of Counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, according to an AAFA press release sent to Retail Dive.
The apparel and footwear industry group said it has also requested that the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency update its Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce advisory — last updated May 19 — to clarify that "facilities that practice safe reopen protocols" be allowed to remain open for business.
Wearing masks, a simple and affordable measure, has emerged as one of the most effective methods of preventing the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Medical personnel and pandemic experts have told Retail Dive that shopping in stores is likely safe as long as retail customers and employees wear masks, keep their distance from each other, and sanitize hands and surfaces.
Yet White House officials including the president are rarely seen in public wearing masks, and the administration, like many governors and mayors nationwide, has been reluctant to endorse the practice. In some states, governors and mayors have tussled over conflicting rules. In this environment, masks have become increasingly politicized, and many consumers have balked at wearing them, in some cases sparking confrontations in stores.
Most U.S. consumers are seeking safety, however. Nearly three-quarters said they wouldn't feel very comfortable shopping in a physical store in the next three months, according to a survey from workplace safety platform SafetyCulture and YouGov. The same survey found that comfort increases when businesses take precautions like regular cleaning and are transparent about their procedures.
That leaves retailers in a precarious spot. Representatives from the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation have told Retail Dive that asking store employees to be enforcers is unfair and potentially risky. In a statement, AAFA CEO Steve Lamar noted that retailers have been put in the position of having "to educate customers on what is required to enter their stores, or even turn customers away."
But he also said, "as long as our members continue to follow proper safety protocols, they should be allowed to stay open."
A public endorsement of masks from elected officials and federal government agencies could correct the mixed messages the public has received, he also said.
"Simply put, a national face mask usage standard would protect retail employees and customers across the country, as well as remove any confusion amongst U.S. consumers regarding their local face mask requirements," he said.