As many states issue stay-at-home orders and nonessential businesses are forced to shut down, retailers and retail workers alike face financial uncertainty. But what most retailers are hopefully not doing to remedy this uncertainty is offering shoddy, ineffective do-it-yourself mask kits in order to be classified by local governments as essential businesses, like employees allege Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts has done.
As authorities begin to encourage citizens around the country to use homemade face coverings amid a shortage of masks and companies like Under Armor begin using their fabric to make masks for healthcare workers, Jo-Ann recently announced that they would also be donating fabric for similar purposes. But employees of Jo-Ann from four different states told Buzzfeed that the kits were, in reality, just a ploy to keep stores operational as huge crowds flood in to buy craft supplies for bored children. One employee said that the kits sometimes don’t even include materials deemed safe for use as masks:
“We’re trying to keep it [to what the company has described as] the correct kind of fabric— high thread count, 100% cotton — but it’s gotten to the point where we are just grabbing random bolts of fabric off the shelves, whatever fits,” said one store manager near Seattle, who asked to remain anonymous, like all employees interviewed for this article, in order to protect their employment. “We burned through all our clearance fabric.”
While a spokesperson for Jo-Ann told Buzzfeed that the masks are “not medical grade,” the company insisted that they do meet CDC guidelines. Workers, however, counter that the masks lack everything from the critical material that acts as a filter to elastic that would keep them snug against the face, leaving employees to improvise with items like jewelry cord.
In Michigan, Jo-Ann Fabrics lobbied to get its employees labeled “critical infrastructure workers” so that its stores could remain operational, but the request was denied. A similar request was denied in Illinois, and stores have also been shut down in New York and Maryland but remain open in Pennsylvania and California. Meanwhile, in Ohio, an employee said that the store did not even provide adequate cleaning supplies to workers facing “Black Friday-type crowds.”