Starbucks and Chipotle follow Trader Joe’s lead with new mask-optional policies [Updated]

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April 2020: a sandwich board lists Trader Joe's COVID protocols, including masks and distancing
April 2020: a sandwich board lists Trader Joe’s COVID protocols, including masks and distancing
Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld (Getty Images)

Update, May 18, 2021: The ripple effect has begun. Restaurant Business reports that Starbucks and Chipotle have each released statements confirming that masks are no longer a requirement for fully vaccinated customers at their locations. Each chain clarified that employees would still be masked up for the time being, and both of their new mask-optional policies take pains to add the “except where required by local regulations” caveat. Despite this, other chains are sure to follow, and you’re likely to see more and more maskless people going about their day in pre-pandemic fashion. You might well be among them, unless you fall into the “ever-maskers” category, a portion of the population covered by the New York Times yesterday that plans to keep masks on in any public setting for the foreseeable future.

Original post, May 17, 2021: Last week, the CDC made waves by announcing that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks outdoors or indoors, and that both masks and physical distancing are no longer required among people who are fully vaccinated, “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” That’s a rather big set of exceptions, because depending on where you live or what buildings you’re entering, the mask requirements might stay firmly in place for the foreseeable future. However, everyone’s favorite purveyor of frozen foods, Trader Joe’s, has reevaluated its own mask requirements in accordance with the updated CDC guidelines, and it has dropped its own mask requirements for fully vaccinated customers, USA Today reports. Costco, Walmart, and other major retailers are announcing similar policy updates.


A few things to note here: first, many news outlets reporting on the Trader Joe’s news reference a statement posted to the Trader Joe’s website last Friday, but links to the statement turn up a 404 page. USA Today did speak with a Trader Joe’s spokesperson, however, who said that the stores will not require proof of vaccination from customers, so the no-masks-for-vaccinated-customers rule will seemingly operate on the honor system. Secondly, the eased mask rules apply to customers, not employees, the latter of whom will still be required to wear them throughout their shifts at this time. Thirdly, despite the relaxed regulations, many customers are opting to keep masks on while they shop; The Los Angeles Times spoke with a few such customers to get their perspective. The general attitude among them seems to be that one can never be too careful.

As more businesses announce similar masks-optional policies, the public is divided on the issue of whether this is a good idea. Some say that it presents an undue risk to employees at those businesses, who have already put themselves in danger showing up to work each day throughout the pandemic. Others say that it’s confusing, because the CDC’s recommendations have lots of caveats about following local regulations—but aren’t those regulations at least partially informed by the CDC? Even when maskless indoor grocery shopping becomes the norm once again, surely we can all agree that it’s still best to come into the store with clean hands and not breathe all over the free samples.