The American Bankers Association (ABA) has written to its members urging them to adopt face mask policies for branches to protect staff and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the letter, ABA president and CEO Rob Nichols said banks owed it to their branch-based staff to “prioritize their safety and to contribute to the wider effort to limit the spread of this infection”.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear “cloth face coverings” when in public or close to others from outside their household when social distancing is difficult. There are exemptions for those with existing respiratory conditions and children under two years old.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases last week urged state and local leaders to be more forceful regarding face coverings as businesses reopen following the economic shutdown.
But while many other countries have made face masks mandatory in public places, President Donald Trump has so far resisted any national measures, telling Fox News in an interview on Friday that people should have a “certain freedom” to decide.
ABA’s Nichols told banks in the letter, sent on July 19: “Requiring the use of masks and face coverings is a step every bank can take to ensure that our industry is doing everything it can to protect our employees, customers and the communities we serve.”
Paul Benda, ABA’s senior vice president for risk management, added: “We have seen a significant increase in online banking across the country, but we realize some customers occasionally need to visit a branch and some prefer it.
“The data clearly show that wearing a mask or face covering when indoors reduces the threat of infection for everyone, which is why we are urging banks of all sizes to adopt this policy.”
Banks across the US have begun reopening branches after months of closures or reduced opening hours. Many are still requiring appointments to be made and are still encouraging the use of drive-thru ATMs and mobile and online banking services to reduce person-to-person contact.
Brian Brooks, acting head of the Office for the Comptroller of the Currency, recently warned banks that the effects of the pandemic would not be accepted as sufficient reason for closing branches.
Nearly 3.8 million people are known to have been infected with COVID-19 since March when the pandemic was declared, according to data collated by The New York Times. A total of 140,373 people have died from the virus as of July 20, with some of the worst affected regions including New York City and areas of Florida and Texas.