Are masks a new signifier of social class?

One recent Sunday night at Bilboquet, a must-see restaurant in the Hamptons, well-to-do diners munched on $ 475 cans of Osetra caviar. A handsome man showed his gold Audemars Piguet watch to his brilliant companion. A group of 10 people dressed in striped polo shirts and rompers danced to a tropical house remix of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It”.

They were all unmasked, while the waiters, bartenders and other waiters kept their mouths and noses covered.

A similar scene took place at the Gucci store in East Hampton, where shoppers removed their masks as they read the door sign saying vaccinated customers can enter without a face cover. Inside, they were taken care of by store clerks wearing blue and white surgical masks, in accordance with company policy.

In the weeks since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidelines to allow fully vaccinated people to remove their masks in most indoor environments, a gap has widened, especially in the richest enclaves where services are valuable.

Those who still wear masks tend to be members of the service class – store clerks, waiters, janitors, manicurists, security guards, receptionists, hairdressers and drivers – while those without face coverings are often the affluent customers who are vinified and dined.

Employers are reluctant to discuss their mask policies, but there are reasonable grounds for requiring staff members to keep their masks on.

Just under 50 percent of people in the United States are fully vaccinated. And coronavirus variants, some of which are highly infectious and may be more resistant to vaccines, are on the increase, said Dr. Lisa Maragakis, epidemiologist and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Food servers, retail salespeople, grocery store cashiers and other workers in contact with the public interact with customers all day long, which can put their health (and that of their customers) at risk. This not only creates potential liability issues for employers, but could also cripple a business in times of labor shortages.

Even in establishments that give vaccinated employees the choice to remove their masks, many keep them. “Who knows who got their chance and who didn’t,” said Michelle Booker, a salesperson from the Bronx who works at a Verizon store in Midtown Manhattan. She wore her mask on a recent Tuesday, although the company allows vaccinated employees to dispense with masks. “I don’t believe half the people who come in,” she said. “I am still terrified.”

And from a public relations standpoint, seeing employees in masks sends a message about how management views the health of its customers and staff. “Their workers are serious professionals who take safety seriously,” said Erin Vearncombe, a professor at the University of Toronto who studies the sociology of dress codes.

The resulting class division may not always be intentional, but it can still be shocking how masks have become another symbol of inequality in the pandemic.

At a Midtown Apple store on a recent Friday, maskless shoppers could be seen buying $ 1,500 iPhones from masked sellers who might not earn as much in a week. At a nearby Sweetgreens, food workers wearing black masks and matching aprons, and who were mostly people of color, prepared $ 14 berry and burrata salads for largely white clientele. .

“It sends a message – a message that has been internalized on both sides – that the body of the mask wearer is ‘riskier’ than the body of the consumer,” said Dr Vearncombe. “It shows that some groups have, and even deserve, more civil liberties than others.”

Some workers argue that the standard double mask – a rule for customers; another for the staff – is not only discriminatory, but defies logic.

“Customers need to be vaccinated to not wear a mask, but we can’t ask for proof,” said Jose de la Rosa, 26, who works behind the counter at the Juice Generation store in Times Square. “And we have workers who are fully vaccinated, can prove it, and always have to wear them. It’s strange.”

As more Americans get vaccinated, some facilities have adopted a single policy for staff and clients, allowing anyone who is fully vaccinated to ditch the mask.

A wide range of stores, including Louis Vuitton, Verizon, Dior, Target, and Home Depot, apply this policy at all of their stores in the United States. Starbucks recently announced that vaccinated workers will be able to remove their masks starting July 5.

But for now, a mask fracture persists in many places. One recent afternoon in Hudson Yards, Mark Pasektsky, 49, a public relations strategist, was shopping for shirts at Theory store. The employees who helped him wore masks. He does not have.

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” ” he said. “On some level, you can’t completely blame employers. How do you comfortably institute a policy that protects everyone? You cannot answer it because there is no answer. But the psychology behind the other approach is very curious. Why are they forcing employees to wear masks when customers don’t? Everyone is just confused.

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