SALT LAKE CITY — Even with health officials and politicians screaming about the importance of wearing them, it seems there are plenty of people who have formed their own opinion about the importance of face coverings.
This week, the debate got a laser focus. Prodded by days of spiking COVID-19 positive tests, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn wrote in a memo that if the numbers don’t go down, she would recommend the state look at going back to orange. It’s a move that would shutter dozens of businesses that have reopened.
The science is clear: covering your mouth and nose reduces the risk of spreading the disease which has already claimed more than 120,000 American lives.
But as you have no doubt witnessed yourself, “Please wear a mask,” is an ask too great for some.
On Wednesday, the KSL Investigators fanned out to about 50 grocery stores all over the state. None of the stores we picked require face coverings, but many had a sign asking customers to please consider wearing a mask.
Then we watched how many patrons heeded the stores’ pleas.
Our observations showed the numbers were all over the map with the more rural areas tending to be less into masks. Also, the more affluent cities were better about covering up.
The five grocery stores where we observed the highest percentage of masks were in Millcreek, Park City, Holladay, Salt Lake City and West Jordan, with shoppers at those stores wearing face coverings 75 percent of the time or higher.
The stores where we saw the fewest masks were in Roosevelt, Price, Vernal, Spanish Fork and Tooele. At each store, fewer than 30 percent of customers wore masks.
Still, even within cities, the numbers varied. For example: In Draper, we observed a store where 62 percent of customers wore face coverings compared to 38 percent that did not. A few blocks away at another store, those numbers flipped.
In Duchesne County, a meager 11 percent of shoppers at grocery stores had face coverings during our observation period. Sixteen percent in Carbon County, 28 percent in Uintah County and 32 percent in Tooele County.
In Utah County, 36 percent of shoppers donned masks, compared to 42 percent in Davis County and 47 percent at two stores we visited in St. George.
Only two of the counties we visited broke 50 percent, and its where we’ve seen the highest number of cases.
Fifty-nine percent of Salt Lake County shoppers we observed wore masks, as did 63 percent in Summit County around the ski areas.
In total, the KSL Investigators observed 3,126 shoppers at grocery stores all over the state. Averaged out, we observed just under a 50:50 split of masks to no masks in the state. Fewer shoppers covered their faces than did not.
The KSL Investigators asked Dave Davis, president of the Utah Food Industry Association, to weigh in on the observations.
“I think the retailers are trying to make it as clear as possible: our preference is that you wear a mask,” he said.
Davis said many grocery stores have talked about requiring masks of their customers.
I think the retailers are trying to make it as clear as possible: our preference is that you wear a mask.
–Dave Davis, Utah Food Industry Association
“All the retailers have thought long and hard about, can we require them?” Davis said.
But he said the logistics were where many grocery stores get hung up.
Would employees be monitoring the doors? Would security guards find themselves wrestling with disobedient customers in the aisles?
It’s something people in the business of serving customers don’t want to see, Davis said, so instead, they continue to plead.
“Our message to consumers would be, please, please think about the workers that are showing up there every day,” Davis said. “Please protect them and simply put on a mask.”
The KSL Investigators also observed that women seemed to be better about putting on a mask than men, and the elderly better than young adults.