Walmart, Kroger and Target are among the grocery retailers updating their face mask policies after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) modified its guidance last week due to the fast spread of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart announced Friday that it will adhere to the latest CDC recommendations, which urge vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans to resume wearing face masks in public indoor settings in areas with significant or elevated COVID infection rates. Facility managers will post signs at in Walmart U.S. stores and Sam’s Clubs to remind customers and associates about the revised CDC guidelines and to “strongly encourage them” to wear masks, according to Walmart.
“We will follow CDC guidance, which includes fully vaccinated people wearing masks in public indoor settings in counties with substantial or high transmission,” Walmart Chief People Officer Donna Morris and Health & Wellness Executive Vice President Dr. Cheryl Pegus said in a July 30 memo to U.S. employees. “In these counties and where there are state or local mask mandates, associates will be required to wear masks inside our facilities, including stores, clubs, distribution centers and fulfillment centers. This also includes campus offices, and you’ll note the entire state of Arkansas is currently included.”
Also on Friday, Walmart said it will now require all market, regional and divisional associates working in multiple facilities, as well as all campus office associates, to get COVID-19 vaccines. The company noted that employees (except those with an approved exception, such as for medical or religious reasons) must be fully immunized by Oct. 4, including receiving both doses for two-shot vaccines and the two weeks after the second inoculation to have full immunity.
“As a country, vaccination options have been available for months but, unfortunately, because so many people have chosen not to receive it, we’ve left ourselves more vulnerable to variants. The Delta variant is a mutation of the original COVID-19 virus and is much more aggressive and transmissible. It is important that necessary steps are taken to keep ourselves and our communities safe,” Morris and Pegus said in the employee memo.
“We will implement a new process for verification of vaccine status for U.S. associates (subject to local legal requirements). This will aid us in following CDC guidelines regarding wearing masks in high-transmission areas and other CDC recommendations more closely,” they added. “We will share more specific details about this process in the near future. Please note we’ll also continue our daily health screening process for all associates to work in a Walmart or Sam’s Club facility, DC [distribution center], FC [fulfillment center] or our campus offices.”
The Kroger Co., too, cited the CDC’s new guidelines in an update to its face mask policy announced on Friday.
“Kroger’s current mask guidance requires unvaccinated associates to wear masks and requests that unvaccinated customers wear masks when in our stores and facilities,” the Cincinnati-based supermarket giant said in a statement. “In light of the Delta variant and updated CDC recommendations, we strongly encourage all individuals, including those who are vaccinated, to wear a mask when in our stores and facilities. We will continue to abide by all state and local mandates and encourage all Americans to get vaccinated, including our associates.”
In mid-May, Kroger was among the grocery retailers who dropped face mask requirements for shoppers fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The retailer policy changes came after new CDC guidance issued May 13 said fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance, except where required by federal, state, local or municipal law and local business and workplace rules. A May 16 update from the CDC also noted that the new guidance focused on people vaccinated against COVID-19, and those not immunized should continue to wear masks and follow other precautions.
Target reported Monday that it also will follow the CDC’s latest recommendations on masks. The Minneapolis-based retailer said the mask policy update for employees and customers will go into effect tomorrow.
“The health and safety of our guests and team members have been Target’s top priority throughout the pandemic. Target will continue to recommend face coverings for unvaccinated team members and guests at all stores across the country,” Target said in a statement. “Effective Tuesday, based on the CDC’s updated guidance, we’ll require face coverings for our team members and strongly recommend face coverings for all guests in areas with substantial or high risk of transmission, as defined by the CDC. We’ll follow all local mandates, as we have throughout the pandemic, and continue to monitor guidance from the CDC closely. We will also maintain all of our health and safety protocols that include increased cleaning measures and social distancing.”
Both Target and Walmart noted that they’re facilitating access to free COVID-19 vaccines and offering incentives to get vaccinated. Target is funding widespread efforts to help boost community access to vaccinations as well as providing paid time and free Lyft rides to workers for vaccine appointments. The chain also is offering shoppers and store associates a $5 coupon after they receive a COVID vaccine at a CVS at Target pharmacy.
Walmart said employees can get a COVID vaccine at any of its more than 5,100 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies. The company, too, said it’s now doubling its vaccination incentive payment for associates in stores, clubs, transportation offices, DCs and FCs from $75 to $150. Employees can get two hours of paid time off to receive their shot(s) on the clock, whether at a Walmart or Sam’s location or elsewhere.
Beginning today, BJ’s Wholesale Club plans to enact the CDC’s new mask recommendations for customers and employees.
“The health and safety of our members, team members and communities continues to be our top priority. Based on recent guidance from public health officials, all BJ’s team members will be required to wear face coverings in areas with substantial or high transmission as defined by the CDC, regardless of vaccination status, starting on Aug. 2, 2021. We also encourage shoppers at all BJ’s locations in areas with substantial or high transmission to wear a face covering regardless of vaccination status,” Westborough, Mass.-based BJ’s said on its website’s coronavirus response page.
“All BJ’s team members and members will be required to wear face coverings in areas where they are mandated by local and state health departments,” the company said. “Team members and members who are not fully vaccinated must still wear face coverings in all BJ’s locations. Additionally, team members and members must wear face coverings in all our optical departments, since they are a health care setting.”
Publix Super Markets also initiated the CDC’s latest mask guidance on Monday. The Lakeland, Fla.-based grocer operates nearly 1,300 stores in seven Southeastern states.
“The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people in areas of substantial- or high-transmission risk wear face coverings over their noses and mouths when in public, indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status,” Publix stated on the coronavirus FAQ page of its website. “Effective Aug. 2, Publix is requiring associates, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear face coverings over their noses and mouths while inside any Publix location. We encourage all to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The nation's second-largest supermarket operator, Albertsons Cos., reported that it will continue to heed mask recommendations by the CDC and state and local requirements for both customers and employees.
"The health and safety of our associates and customers continues to be our highest priority. After reviewing the latest CDC guidance in response to the rising COVID-19 trends, we will continue to follow their guidelines by requiring associates to wear masks in our stores in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission rates. In addition, we will post signage at store entrances in these areas to encourage our customers to follow the CDC’s mask guidance. As we have throughout the pandemic, our stores will support and follow all local mandates," Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons said in a statement. "While masks will help reduce transmission, the CDC continues to advise vaccinations are the best measure to protect yourself and avoid potential health complications from the virus. Vaccinations are available at all of our pharmacies by appointment or walk-in."
On Friday, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets reiterated its mask policy in light of the CDC’s latest guidance. The chain operates 106 supermarkets in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and North Carolina.
“We continue to review any new masking guidelines from the CDC and adhere to any local or state mandates that require masks indoors,” Wegmans said in a statement. “At this time, fully vaccinated customers and employees are no longer required to wear a face covering in our stores, except where mandated at the state or local level.”
Through the end of last week, other large grocery retailers were essentially following the CDC’s mask guidelines issued in May — face coverings optional for the vaccinated and strongly urged for the unvaccinated — and adhering to rules in state and local jurisdictions. According to published reports, those chains included Whole Foods Market, Costco Wholesale, Aldi, H-E-B, Wakefern, Meijer, Dollar General, Walgreens and CVS.
“We are following the latest guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as all local and state ordinances,” Dollar Tree stated on its website about its face mask policy. The retailer also operates Family Dollar stores.
*EDITOR'S NOTE: Article updated with comment from Albertsons Cos.