Disney and Walmart announced Friday that they are implementing coronavirus vaccine mandates for some of their employees, as two of the largest U.S. companies became the latest corporate giants to embrace vaccination in the face of renewed pandemic restrictions.
Those Disney employees who are working at one of the company’s sites but remain unvaccinated must get inoculated within the next 60 days to comply with the new mandate, according to a company statement. Disney added that it has reached out to unions representing its employees regarding a vaccine mandate to be included under collective bargaining agreements, Bloomberg News reported.
Disney announced earlier in the week that it would require visitors to wear masks indoors at its theme parks in the United States.
Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer at almost 1.6 million workers, announced that all of its corporate staff members and regional managers would need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 4. Though the mandate does not apply to store and warehouse staffers, who make up the bulk of the company’s workforce, Walmart is offering a $150 bonus as an incentive for those unvaccinated employees to get inoculated.
The company also said it planned to implement a system to keep track of vaccinated employees.
While companies are pushing for vaccinations, they must contend with employees who are seeking exceptions for medical or religious reasons. Walmart said in a statement that while a “small percentage” of employees are unable to be vaccinated for such reasons, those workers “must follow all social distancing standards, wear a mask while working, and receive weekly Covid-19 testing provided by Walmart.” Disney said it would allow “certain limited exceptions.”
In a memo announcing the decision, Walmart chief executive Doug McMillon acknowledged that the highly transmissible delta variant had increased infection rates nationwide and that “the pandemic is not over.” There were close to 103,000 reported cases of the coronavirus Friday, marking the second time this week the new daily case numbers had eclipsed 100,000, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.
“We believe we have an important role to play and believe the requirement for vaccinations for our leaders is key to driving toward an end to this pandemic,” McMillon said to employees. “Let’s set the example.”
Like Disney, Walmart also announced new mask rules this week, asking shoppers to cover their faces inside stores in counties deemed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have high risk of viral transmission. Walmart had implemented a mask policy for employees and customers in July 2020 but repealed it in May when CDC guidance indicated that fully vaccinated people were safe to go without masks in most public places.
“We will identify new ways of working together on the other side of this virus, but we have to fight the virus, all of us, to get there,” McMillon said in the memo.
The news comes after corporate giants Google, Facebook and Uber announced their own vaccine mandates for employees this week. The Washington Post also instituted a mandatory vaccination policy for its employees this week. Companies such as Apple, Twitter, Lyft and the New York Times said they are delaying their return to offices because of the rising cases.
Grocery stores such as Publix and Kroger are implementing or maintaining policies requiring employees and customers to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status, and Trader Joe’s and Costco are reassessing their policies.
The recent corporate mandates on vaccines and masking coincide with a period in which more than 4.7 million Americans have been newly vaccinated in the past two weeks in response to the delta variant. More than 856,000 doses were administered Friday, the highest daily figure since July 3, according to The Post’s vaccine tracker.
The uptick in shots has come in vaccine-hesitant pockets of the country that morphed into hot spots. Louisiana has seen a 114 percent increase in uptake, according to the CDC, while states such as Arkansas, Alabama and Missouri have also seen dramatic spikes. Texas last week reported its highest single-day vaccine administration in a month, an increase of more than 25 percent compared with a month ago.