A slew of retailers have joined Walmart in requiring shoppers to wear face coverings at every U.S. store amid an upswing in novel coronavirus infections.
Target said its new mask policy, which takes effect Aug. 1, does not apply to young children or those with underlying medical conditions. Like Walmart, it will station employees at store entrances to remind shoppers to wear masks and provide disposable ones if needed. It also will install signage, run reminders on store audio systems and encourage no-contact shopping options. More than 80 percent of Target’s 1,871 U.S. stores already have mask requirements in compliance with local and state mandates.
CVS said its policy takes effect Monday at its 10,000 U.S. locations.
“To be clear, we’re not asking our store employees to play the role of enforcer,” CVS Chief Operating Officer Jon Roberts said in a news release. “What we are asking is that customers help protect themselves and those around them by listening to the experts and heeding the call to wear a face covering.”
Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, announced Wednesday in a tweet that masks will be required at all of its 2,758 stores starting Wednesday. The Ohio-based grocer’s banners include Kroger, Harris Teeter, Ralphs and Fred Meyer. The Kohl’s policy takes effect Monday at more than 1,100 stores nationwide.
Both companies already required employees to wear masks.
Walmart said that masks would be required at all its stores starting Monday and that it will position “health ambassadors” at the entryways to help with enforcement. The retailer said about 3,500 of its more than 5,300 Walmart and Sam’s Clubs locations already are observing public health mandates within their respective markets.
“We know some people have differing opinions on this topic,” said a news release from Dacona Smith and Lance de la Rosa, the chief operating officers of Walmart and Sam’s Club. “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.”
The world’s biggest retail trade group lauded Walmart’s move and expressed hope that it would be a “tipping point” for the retail industry. Costco, Apple and Best Buy already had blanket mask policies in place.
“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,” the National Retail Federation trade said in a statement.
“Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right,” the statement continued. “If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk.”
Mixed messaging from local and state governments, and varying business policies, have politicized mask use despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that suggests masks can help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The pathogen causes covid-19, which has killed at least 134,000 Americans. The number of confirmed U.S. coronavirus infections has topped 3.5 million. The CDC, which originally downplayed the importance of masks, now calls face coverings “a critical preventive measure” and says they should be worn in public.
The move comes amid a surge in infections, particularly in the South and West, that has overwhelmed hospitals and raised fears of worsening outbreaks this fall and winter. The United States topped 50,000 new cases in one day for the first time on July 1, shortly after the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, warned that the country could expect to see 100,000 new cases a day “if this does not turn around.” On Wednesday, the United States reported 65,852 daily new cases.
Economists say nationwide mask requirements could prevent a return to widespread shutdowns and further economic turmoil. Last week, a Goldman Sachs analysis estimated that a nationwide mask requirement could avert more shutdowns and the potential loss of $1 trillion from the U.S. gross domestic product.
The patchwork approach to masks and the political tempest surrounding them have left retail workers vulnerable as they enforce mask policies. Some workers say they have been told they cannot refuse service to maskless customers, even if local laws require the wearing of masks. In recent weeks, retail workers have been physically assaulted, even suffering broken limbs. And a security guard at a Family Dollar store in Michigan was killed after trying to enforce the mask requirement.
Coronavirus: What you need to know
The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.
Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.
Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.
Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.
For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.