As Chicago sees an uptick in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant, one local grocery store owner says he's not taking any chances.
"I decided, in order to protect my customers and my staff, I wanted to go ahead and reinstitute the mask policy, and I’m glad I did," said Dileep Gangolli, who owns the Green Grocer in West Town.
Customers and staff are now required to wear masks inside the small store, which is only 1,200 square feet.
A sign near the register reads in part, "We know we are being cautious. Perhaps too much. But we require masks. Yes, it's a pain. We get that. We want it to be over as badly as you. But we want to protect ourselves and you. We want to be ahead of the DELTA variant and to keep anyone who walks in this store protected."
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Gangolli says most people don't mind, but he has seen some customers push back.
"We've had a number of customers come in and leave right away because they do not agree with what I’m doing, but I want to be a leader. I don’t want to be a follower on this," he said.
Max Whitfield, the assistant manager and wine director, said he's grateful to have a boss who prioritizes his health.
"He was very thoughtful with all the research he did and shared it with everyone in the company," Whitfield said. "We’ve made it this far. No point to give up all the progress we’ve made just for a few more weeks."
"We’re doing this to help them. Not to inconvenience them. We’re doing this to keep everyone healthy," he said.
The city of Chicago dropped its mask mandate for fully vaccinated residents in May, but officials haven't ruled out the possibility of bringing it back. The city's average daily case rate has tripled over the past three weeks.
"If we see a surge, anything we’ve seen in the past couple cycles, then everything is on the table. Right now, I feel confident with the metrics in place, but everything is subject to change based upon the data and science," Mayor Lori Lightfoot previously said.
On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expanded New York City's vaccine mandate to include all city workers. Starting this fall, employees who have not provided proof of COVID-19 vaccination must test undergo weekly COVID tests.
Mask and vaccine requirements have yet to be reintroduced in Chicago, Illinois or communities within the state. However, Mayor Lightfoot is encouraging residents to play it safe.
"We are not in the danger area based upon the metrics that we follow, but I do think it’s smart for people to wear masks. When you’re in a group, you don’t know who’s vaccinated or not," Lightfoot said.
The Green Grocer's policy will be in effect for at least the next week or two, but could be extended depending on recommendations from the city and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Masks are available to paying customers who don't have one.