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No face mask in Florida? A business can deny you service

No shirt, no shoes and now, no mask -- no service.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Costco was in the national spotlight weeks ago when the company announced all its members and guests would need to wear some sort of face covering while in-store.

In the air, JetBlue was first to say its flyers have to be covered, too.

Take a trip to any Tampa Bay area grocery store and there will be a mix of people wearing masks or opting not to. Publix and Winn-Dixie have distributed masks to their employees; neither explicitly ask shoppers to wear one.

The Fresh Market, however, with locations in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa, has a policy in place for its customers.

Florida does not have a statewide face covering mandate in place in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, though its "Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery" recommends wearing them. Across Tampa Bay, there are no local ordinances or laws requiring them, either. 

But if a business has such a policy and chooses to enforce it, a customer could be left outside the door, Tampa attorney Jay Hebert said. It's like the saying, "no shirt, no shoes, no service." 

A company could add "no mask, no service," if it wanted to.

"A business can, as always, refuse service," Hebert said. "They are private companies who must comply with ADA and health department issues."

The ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, governs retail stores as a place of public accommodation, and stores should be mindful of it, lawyers Jillian de Chavez-Lau and Joshua A. Stein wrote recently in The National Law Review. It's likely OK for a business to have a policy for turning away a customer should they not want to wear a face mask because it can justify the policy based on the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With no mask law on the book, however, there's really no penalty for not wearing one. A business isn't empowered, said Hebert, to bring down any worse penalty than to tell a person to leave.

Its owners probably would lose customers and garner free, and potentially unwanted, press if a business wanted to go farther than that, Hebert added.

While uncomfortable at times, face masks can be the first defense at blocking the virus from entering through the nose and mouth in public settings where social distancing is hard to achieve, the CDC said.

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