As viral videos of shoppers' tirades and confrontations over being asked to wear face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic erupt, major retailers are urging governors to make it a requirement for everyone to wear a mask.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Walgreens, Home Depot and other major chains, says different local mandates across the country have created confusion leading to conflicts between customers and store employees.
"Retailers are alarmed with the instances of hostility and violence front-line employees are experiencing by a vocal minority of customers who are under the misguided impression that wearing a mask is a violation of their civil liberties," Brian Dodge, the retail association’s president, said in a letter to the National Governors Association.
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Fewer than half of U.S. states require masks in public places, according to the retail group, and some cities and counties have issued their own mandates.
Retailers "respectfully ask that those governors that haven't yet required masks in public to do so immediately," Hodge said in his letter addressed to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The National Governors Association said Tuesday that its members are discussing the letter and others like it from different retail groups.
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Hodge says the association recommends that retailers communicate safety policies with extensive signage at stores and not by physically confronting customers.
"Given the troubling incidents we have all seen on social media involving aggressive customers refusing to wear a mask, we strongly recommend store employees not be charged with primary enforcement of mask mandates and that retailers not be fined for a customer's non-compliance," Hodge said.
Over the weekend, the founder of an Arizona public relations firm recorded herself destroying a face mask display at a Scottsdale Target. Last month, a woman without a mask at a California Trader Joe's called employees and shoppers "Democratic pigs" and screamed profanities.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people cover their mouth and nose with face coverings in public settings and around people who don’t live in their household to help reduce the spread of the virus.
"Wearing a mask is not about fear, and it certainly should not reflect one's politics," Hodge wrote in the letter. "Wearing a mask is about respecting others and preventing the spread of a deadly disease. This should no longer be up for debate."
Contributing: Associated Press
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko