Fast food workers beg customers to mask up in drive-thru

  • Some fast food workers told Insider they would feel safer if customers wore masks in drive-thru.
  • An infectious disease expert told Insider that drive-thru can be more dangerous for customers than for workers.
  • Workers in more vaccinated areas who spoke to Insider said they were less concerned about unmasked customers.

Fast food workers are exposed to hundreds of people each shift, and some who spoke to Insider are pleading with customers to wear masks in the drive-thru.

“If the worker is wearing a mask, so should you,” a California Starbucks employee told Insider. “It just shows the bare minimum of courtesy.” He added that it is significant to feel that customers care about the welfare of workers.

Another Starbucks employee in New York told Insider that she and her co-workers prefer drive-thru customers to wear masks, but that’s not very common. She estimates that only one in 20 drive-thru customers wear a mask when interacting with workers.

“There’s definitely not six feet of space” between the drive-thru window and the customers, “so if they were wearing a mask, it would feel a lot safer,” she said.

A Midwest Taco Bell employee, who is immunocompromised, told Insider he felt safer when drive-thru customers were masked, even though interactions were usually short. He also recommended customers pay through the app when possible, so they don’t have to bend even closer to hand over cash or credit cards.

A Starbucks employee in Pennsylvania had a slightly different reasoning when speaking to Insider for asking customers to mask up.

“You just don’t know what’s going on with the person serving you,” she told Insider, explaining that many of her co-workers have gone home with positive COVID-19 tests or exposures. . She doesn’t want to infect anyone coming through her line, she said.

The workers asked to remain anonymous as they are not authorized to speak to the press, but their identities have been verified by Insider.

According to Dr. Ruth Carrico, executive director of the Norton Infectious Diseases Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, there is no easy or simple answer to the question of whether customers wearing masks are necessary in drive-thrus. Each drive-thru is built differently, but ventilation inside a restaurant is generally positive, which means higher air pressure inside than outside causes air to blow from inside out the window and into the car, Carrico told Insider. This means that in many cases the person inside the car could be at higher risk of infection.

Medical experts, including the CDC, agree that masks can prevent coronavirus transmission. The health organization currently recommends that everyone wear at least cloth masks, although some experts say medical-grade masks are better at stopping virus particles.

Some states have mask mandates in public spaces, and many businesses require customers to wear masks to enter.

Customer attitudes toward masking vary by location. A McDonald’s worker in a northeastern state with a high vaccination rate said he wasn’t terribly worried. An official at Chick-fil-A in Virginia said that while few customers wear masks in the drive-thru, nearly all of his team are vaccinated, so they aren’t particularly concerned about exposure.

With changing factors like airflow and the distance between cars and restaurants, Carrico says it’s hard to prescribe a perfect general rule for every situation.

“My vote is to protect the worker and the person in the car and have everyone masked up,” she told Insider. Everyone on both sides of the interaction wearing a mask is relatively easy to implement while reducing damage and providing the best protection for everyone, she said.

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