Starting next week, Walmart will begin requiring customers to wear a face covering in all of its U.S. stores, including Sam’s Club.
The policy goes into effect on July 20, Dacona Smith, chief operating officer of Walmart U.S., and Lance de la Rosa, COO Sam’s Club, announced in a blog post on Wednesday. They said that date will give the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer time to get the word out to customers, post signs on the new requirement and train store associates on the new COVID-19 safety protocols.
In explaining the move, the two executives cited spiking coronavirus infection rates nationwide, which in turn have led to face covering mandates in more of the communities that Walmart serves. About 65% of the retailer’s 5,000-plus stores and clubs are in areas with some type of government requirement for face masks, they noted.
Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called on Americans across the country to wear face coverings when in public. The CDC pointed to new research finding that cloth face coverings are a “critical tool” in helping reduce the spread of COVID-19 — especially when used universally within communities — and that these face coverings help prevent people with the virus from giving it to others.
“While we’re certainly not the first business to require face coverings, we know this is a simple step everyone can take for their safety and the safety of others in our facilities,” Smith and de la Rosa said in the blog. “According to the CDC, face coverings help decrease the spread of COVID-19, and because the virus can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms and don’t know they are infected, it’s critically important for everyone to wear a face covering in public and social distance.”
Walmart began requiring all employees — including at stores, clubs, distribution and fulfillment centers, and corporate offices — to wear face coverings at work on April 20. When announcing the policy, the company also said it will encourage customers to wear face protection when shopping at its stores and clubs.
Smith and de la Rosa said Walmart also will now station a “health ambassador” near the entrance of all stores and clubs to remind shoppers they must wear a face covering. All stores and clubs, too, now will have a single entrance for customers.
“Our ambassadors will receive special training to help make the process as smooth as possible for customers,” the executives said. “The ambassadors, identifiable by their black polo shirts, will work with customers who show up at a store without a face covering to try and find a solution. We are currently considering different solutions for customers when this requirement takes effect on July 20.”
At Sam’s Club locations, the ambassadors will provide masks at no charge if a member entering the store doesn’t have one, or members will be able to buy masks from the club.
“We know it may not be possible for everyone to wear a face covering. Our associates will be trained on those exceptions to help reduce friction for the shopper and make the process as easy as possible for everyone. As we have seen in states and municipalities with mask mandates, virtually everyone either brings a mask or readily complies with the requirement, and we anticipate that to happen in other areas as well,” Smith and de la Rosa said. “We know some people have differing opinions on this topic. We also recognize the role we can play to help protect the health and well-being of the communities we serve by following the evolving guidance of health officials like the CDC.”
In a July 14 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the CDC reviewed the latest science in two case studies. A JAMA case study showed that adherence to universal masking policies lowered COVID-19 transmission in a Boston hospital system, and a case study from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) revealed that wearing masks prevented the spread of coronavirus from two hair stylists to their customers in Missouri.
The CDC said other data in its July 14 MMWR showed that more U.S. adults began covering their faces after the agency and the White House Coronavirus Task Force advised Americans to wear masks in public. An online survey conducted April 7 to 9 found that 62% of adults said they would follow the recommendations to wear a face mask when outside their home. That percentage jumped to more than 76% in a repeat survey from May 11 to 13. The CDC noted that the polls showed a surge in face mask approval among respondents in the Midwest, from 44% to 74%, as well as in the Northeast, from 77% to 87%.
“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement yesterday. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus, particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”
The National Retail Federation (NRF) today hailed Walmart’s decision and called on retailers nationwide to set policies requiring all customers to wear face coverings in their stores.
“The health and safety of associates and customers is retailers’ No. 1 priority and wearing a face covering or mask is scientifically proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19. NRF applauds the leadership of companies like Walmart, Starbucks, Best Buy, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Apple, Qurate Retail Group, Costco and others that have implemented nationwide mask mandates,” NRF said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We hope today’s announcement by Walmart — the world’s largest retailer — that it will be enforcing a policy requiring customers to wear a mask to shop in their stores is a tipping point in this public health debate,” NRF noted. “Workers serving customers should not have to make a critical decision as to whether they should risk exposure to infection or lose their jobs because a minority of people refuse to wear masks in order to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.”
Earlier this month, NRF co-signed a letter to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and National Governors Association Chairman Larry Hogan (Maryland) and Vice Chairman Andrew Cuomo (New York) calling for a national mask standard that can be implemented locally. The letter — also signed by the NRF, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and National Association of Manufacturers — stressed that medical evidence “is clear” that wearing face coverings in public is a “critical element” in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, retailers of all sizes have been on the front lines safely serving customers and supporting their communities. Stores are private businesses that can adopt policies permitted by law for the health and safety of their associates and their customers. Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right. If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk,” NRF stated.
“Retailers are protecting the health and safety of communities they serve,” NRF added. “Our elected leaders need to set politics aside and follow their example.”
Late last week, the United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) union partnered with more than 100 health experts in calling for public mask mandates in all 50 states. UFCW and the coalition of health experts — including from the World Economic Forum; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Harvard, Yale and Stanford universities; and the National Academy of Sciences, among other organizations — ran a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times newspaper that asked governors, congressional lawmakers and the Trump administration to immediately require face coverings in public nationwide.
UFCW’s announcement came as the United States passed the 3 million mark in total COVID-19 cases. As of midday on July 15, the U.S. had nearly 3.45 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 136,699 deaths from the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University.