The Kroger Co. has joined other large retailers in requiring shoppers to wear a face mask at all stores.
The nation’s largest supermarket operator, Kroger said late yesterday that its face mask mandate will go into effect at all of its nearly 2,760 retail locations on July 22. The Cincinnati-based company operates grocery retail stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia under more than 20 banners, such as Kroger, Ralphs, Dillons, Smith’s, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Fry’s, QFC, Harris Teeter, Mariano’s and Food 4 Less/Foods Co.
“With the increase in COVID-19 cases across the country, as America’s grocer, we are committed to doing our part to help reduce the spread of the virus,” Kristal Howard, head of corporate communications and media relations at Kroger, said in an email.
“As an employer, grocery provider and community partner, we have a responsibility to help keep our associates, customers and communities safe. According to the CDC, wearing a facial covering, combined with social distancing and frequent handwashing, has been scientifically proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Howard explained. “Starting July 22, we will require all customers in all locations to wear a mask when shopping in our stores, joining our associates who continue to wear masks.”
Until now, Kroger had encouraged customers to wear face coverings in its market areas where such protection wasn’t mandated by state or local government.
“We are taking this extra step now because we recognize additional precautions are needed to protect our country,” Howard said.
Kroger is encouraging customers unable to wear a mask because of medical reasons to consider alternatives, such as a face covering or face shield or facial covering. Howard said Kroger is requesting those unable to wear any face protection to use its online grocery pickup or delivery services. The company has offered pickup, which typically carries a $4.95 fee, at no charge during the coronavirus pandemic.
All Kroger Co. store associates already are required to wear face masks or other face protection. That policy went into effect on April 26.
“Kroger’s most urgent priority throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers while meeting our societal obligation to provide open stores, e-commerce solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain so that our communities have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials,” Howard stated.
“We thank our associates and customers for partnering with us to slow down the spread of COVID-19,” she added.
United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW), the largest U.S. food and retail union, welcomed Kroger’s move requiring shoppers to wear face masks in stores.
“Kroger's action to mandate masks for customers is long overdue and an important step that UFCW has been calling for since the beginning of the pandemic,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement late Wednesday. “To help save lives, every retailer and grocery store across this nation must adopt a mask requirement, and enforcement must be done by trained professionals, not retail workers already stretched thin during this crisis.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Walmart announced that it will require customers to wear face coverings at all of its Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club stores effective July 20. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant pointed to a July 14 announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that called on Americans nationwide to wear face coverings when in public. The CDC cited new research finding that cloth face coverings are a “critical tool” in helping reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Other large grocery retailers enacting face mask mandates for customers at all stores include Costco Wholesale, Dollar Tree, H-E-B and BJ’s Wholesale Club. BJ’s said it will require members to wear a face covering at all club locations starting July 20. Texas grocer H-E-B, citing rising COVID-19 cases and CDC findings, instituted a chainwide fask mask requirement starting on July 1 ahead of a state mandate. Outside the grocery realm, big chains requiring shoppers to wear face protection include Best Buy, Kohl’s, the Apple Store and Starbucks, among others.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) yesterday called Walmart’s face mask requirement for customers “a tipping point in this public health debate” and asked retailers nationwide to set policies requiring all shoppers to wear face coverings in their stores. Earlier this month, in a letter to the National Governors Association, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) called on all states to require face masks in retail stores.
“Wearing a mask is about respecting other and preventing the spread of a deadly disease. This should no longer be up for debate,” RILA President Brian Dodge wrote in the July 6 letter. “We urge every governor to require customers who are no encumbered by a medical condition to wear masks when shopping or in public spaces.”
Late last week, UFCW allied with a coalition of more than 100 health experts in calling for public mask mandates in all 50 states. Only about half of states and the District of Columbia have implemented public face-mask mandates, though some — such as Texas and Ohio — are limited to counties where the incidence of confirmed COVID-19 cases exceeds government thresholds.
Through July 15, the U.S. had nearly 3.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 137,358 deaths from the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 40 states are now seeing a rise in daily coronavirus cases, and many of the states with the biggest increases haven’t enacted face mask requirements.
"While action by companies to require masks is essential, the brutal reality is that this is not nearly enough to turn the tide, as COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket in states like Arizona, Florida, and Texas,” UFCW’s Perrone added. The union reported at least 93 worker deaths and 12,200 workers infected or exposed to the virus among its grocery store members. “Across the country, every governor and mayor must step up and make masks mandatory at all supermarkets and retail stores. Without universal mask mandates that are fully enforced nationwide, hundreds of thousands of Americans will continue to get sick and die. We cannot wait any longer.”