A cashier wearing a face shield bags groceries for a customer at a store in Chicago, Illinois on April 8, 2020 (AFP / Kamil Krzaczynski)

Posts falsely claim Pennsylvania stores that refuse to serve maskless customers should be reported

Facebook posts shared thousands of times urge people to report stores that refuse to serve customers who are not wearing face masks to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. But the opposite is actually the case; employees and customers of businesses in the US state are generally required to wear masks due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and those not following the guidelines should be reported, the department says.

“If ur refused service at a store for no mask call the dept of health and report the store,” says a post published on April 28, 2020, which includes a phone number for the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH).

“The masks are suggested, not required,” it says.

The same claim is made in other Facebook posts here, here and here.

A screenshot of a Facebook post taken on May 20, 2020

The phone number listed in the posts appears on the Pennsylvania DOH website, which says it can be contacted 24/7 to “report a Public Health Emergency or AN IMMEDIATELY NOTIFIABLE CONDITION.”

“Stores and businesses that are not following guidance regarding wearing a mask are what are to be reported. Stores have the right, as defined in our Worker Safety Order, to refuse service to anyone not wearing a mask,” Nate Wardle, press secretary of the Pennsylvania DOH, told AFP by email. 

Pennsylvania’s Worker Safety Order says essential businesses must require all customers to wear masks, and deny entry to individuals not wearing them.

There is an exception for businesses “providing medication, medical supplies, or food, in which case the business must provide alternative methods of pick-up or delivery of such goods.” 

And people who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition may enter the premises, the order says.

The Pennsylvania State Police communications director, Ryan Tarkowski, previously told AFP that businesses can be fined for not following safety guidelines.

“You have to wear a mask if you go to the grocery store. If you don’t wear a mask in the grocery store, the store would be fined for not ensuring that you’re wearing the mask,” he said.

As of May 20, Pennsylvania had more than 63,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 323,000 people worldwide since it emerged in China in late 2019.

AFP Fact Check has debunked more than 460 examples of false or misleading information about the novel coronavirus crisis. A complete list of our fact checks on the topic in English can be found here.