Fong and Zhou Supermarket in Bensonhurst and AAA Pharmacy in Midwood are turning away customers who aren’t wearing face masks — a policy that a spokesperson from the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) says should not exist.
“Business owners are not permitted to turn away customers who are not wearing face masks,” said a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS), although the spokesperson could not point to a specific law that prevents businesses from doing just that. Neither the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) nor the Office of Emergency Management (OCE) would comment on this practice.
Fong and Zhou Supermarket at 8514 18th Ave implemented the new policy on Monday, March 23, according to Gary Chui, a bookkeeper for the supermarket.
“We’re protecting our staff and customers too,” said Chui.
The supermarket is also selling $40 boxes of 50 three-layer face masks outside the store for customers who did not bring their own. Chui says that the price is fair given the import cost from China. Amazon is selling a similar product for $30, granted, the masks wouldn’t arrive until April 5 at the earliest or April 27 at the latest.
United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted on Saturday, February 29 that surgical masks like the ones Fong and Zhou Supermarket is selling are “not effective in preventing general public from catching Coronavirus.” Chui says that customers can wear “any mask” to get in the store.
The more-specialized N95 Respirators do filter out Coronavirus, and regular surgical masks can be useful for blocking coughing and sneezing according to the Center for Disease Control.
AAA Pharmacy and Medical Supply at 1926 Kings Highway implemented a similar policy on Sunday, March 22. The pharmacy is giving free gloves at the door, but customers must bring their own masks. AAA is not selling masks right now, but has enough masks for staff, according to a staff member who hung up the phone when asked his name.
SBS has released a series of guidelines for businesses to protect their staff and the public from Coronavirus. These include cleaning more frequently, promoting “tap and pay” services like Apple Pay, having hand-sanitizer available and increasing ventilation, but explicitly states that masks are not necessary.
“The NYC Health Department does not recommend the routine use of face masks if you are not sick. Face masks are not needed for general or routine tasks by staff,” writes the SBS in the guidelines.
Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, warned that masks should only be used by people showing symptoms at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press conference on Friday, March 20.
“The time to use a mask is when someone is symptomatic, when they’re coughing, when they’re sneezing, and it’s to ensure that that individual doesn’t contaminate other folks,” said Commissioner Barbot. “It gives people who are asymptomatic a false sense of security that if they wear this mask, they don’t have to wash their hands, they don’t have to cover their mouths and their noses when they cough or they sneeze.”