County Councilman Kai Hagen (D) is no stranger to debating people on Facebook.
So earlier this month, when he posted a few pictures and wrote a lengthy post on his personal Facebook page about a male customer at the Food Lion grocery store in Thurmont not wearing a face covering or mask during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s no surprise the post generated a lot of discussion.
Some members of the public have accused Hagen of harassing the customer who did not wear a face covering. That customer told Hagen and a store manager he had a medical condition, and thus could not wear one. Others accused him of harassing store employees.
Hagen said in an interview last week he didn’t harass either the customer or store manager or any employees, but did agree on the following timeline:
On July 11 at the Thurmont Food Lion, he saw a man accompanying a woman who was shopping inside. The man was not wearing a face covering, so Hagen approached him from a distance and told him he should be wearing one.
That man told Hagen he couldn’t because he had a medical condition, so Hagen notified a store employee, who got a manager to give the customer a mask. The man did not wear the mask because of a medical condition, the manager told Hagen.
Hagen said if the man did have a medical condition, then Food Lion could have offered other ways to serve him, adding the woman he was with was doing all the shopping. He added those alternatives could have been offering curbside pickup, delivery or offering a face shield instead of a face covering.
Hagen was also concerned about the public health danger because the man was not wearing a mask. He told the manager he would not be patronizing his store if he and other employees didn’t enforce the order.
Hagen said he wouldn’t patronize the Food Lion if it didn’t enforce face covering rules, because he wanted to reward stores that would.
Hagen added he respected that some people, including the man he spoke with, may have a legitimate medical condition, but added they should be wearing face shields, or ordering curbside or delivery in order to keep others safe during the pandemic. County Executive Jan Gardner (D) commented on Hagen’s post he should report the incident to the county health department.
Hogan has issued statements this month stating recent increases in coronavirus cases and other key metrics are because businesses are not enforcing his executive orders.
John, a store manager who spoke with Hagen during the July 11 incident and did not give his last name, deferred comment to Food Lion’s spokespeople.
Emma Inman, director of external communications for Food Lion, said in a statement Food Lion employees in Maryland wear face coverings stores and encourage customers to, but don’t inquire about medical conditions.
Hogan’s executive order from mid-April requiring face coverings does not specifically note medical exemptions, but does state that businesses should “in good faith and to the extent possible” enforce the order. Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, noted Maryland Department of Health guidance which states: “People with disabilities who are unable to wear a mask are provided reasonable accommodations per the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Ken Buckler, a Boonsboro resident, was one of the people who emailed with concerns about how Hagen handled the situation.
Buckler noted he has an “invisible” medical condition called photophobia, which requires him to wear rose-colored glasses and a hat in order to prevent fluorescent lights from giving him migraines indoors.
He believes those who are able should wear a mask. But, some people with medical conditions can’t, he added. And alternative services, like curbside pickup at grocery stores, aren’t always adequate if items are not in stock, Buckler said.
“So while this may be an attempt to serve those who can’t wear a mask, it is still not equivalent to being able to actually go into the grocery store, see what’s in stock, and choose what you would like to purchase,” Buckler said.
Some have questioned why Hagen deleted the post. Hagen said last week he did not delete it, but increased privacy settings when the post got out-of-hand and hateful comments were made.
“When you get 3,600 comments from half the states in the country, and well into the night, you’re getting threatening phone calls at home, making it inaccessible at times to make things calm down is the right thing to do,” Hagen said.