As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the safety of U.S. retail workers, Walmart said Tuesday (March 31) it will begin taking the temperatures of employees in distribution and fulfillment centers and stores to guard against the spread.
Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner said the company is sending infrared thermometers to all locations, which could take up to three weeks. Furner said any employee with a temperature of 100 degrees will be paid for reporting to work and asked to return home and seek medical treatment if necessary. They can’t return to work until they are fever-free for at least three days.
Walmart said given the three weeks needed to get the thermometers out to employees, the company is asking each worker take their own temperature before leaving home to come to work. The company said the temperature check will be mandatory for employees, but it will not be asked of shoppers.
Dan Bartlett, head of corporate communications at Walmart, held a call with the media Tuesday morning to answer questions around the new protocol. He declined to say how many COVID-19 cases have been reported by Walmart employees. He said the company is following the guidelines of health officials with regards to store sanitizing around any case that is detected.
Walmart has also ordered masks and gloves for its million-plus store and supply chain employees in the U.S. That is about 7 million masks and employees will be given the choice to wear them, according to Bartlett. He said the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not recommend gloves or masks for healthy people who don’t ordinarily use them for their jobs. The company is making them available for any employee who wants to wear them. He said the masks will arrive in one to two weeks and will be high quality, though not the N95 respirators reserved for at-risk healthcare workers.
Walmart is also asking customers and employees to follow a new “6-20-100” guidance regarding staying healthy during the national emergency. He said the six-foot rule is to comply with social distancing guidelines that are being put into place around the U.S. The retailer has already marked floors to show proper distancing near checkouts and other places in stores where customers congregate.
The 20 refers to the time, in seconds, recommended to thoroughly wash hands with soap and water. As hand sanitizers remain in short supply, Bartlett said everyone should wash their hands often as the first line of defense against COVID-19.
The 100 refers to a body temperature reading that requires someone to stay home.
Bartlett said this is not the time to load up the family and go to Walmart. He said customers should make fewer trips, do their shopping quickly and leave. He said Walmart is not limiting the number of shoppers in stores because the company has already reduced shopping hours and wants to ensure everyone has an opportunity to get the food and consumables they need.
Bartlett said the number of employees calling in to stay home has gone up in recent days, and the company does allow jobs to be protected during the outbreak. He said Walmart is also hiring about 5,000 people a day to ensure the company has the workforce needed to keep stores clean and stocked and the supply chain running. Since March 19, Walmart has hired almost 50,000 people, Bartlett said.
Walmart’s stepped-up protocol comes as Amazon and Instacart workers in the U.S. walked off the job, saying the work is threatening their health.
Bartlett said Walmart has been watching the COVID-19 outbreak and the company is being thoughtful about each decision. Rolling out new guidelines takes time at Walmart’s massive scale, he said.
Bartlett also said Plexiglas barriers that will be installed at checkout stations are also coming in the next few weeks and should help to protect customers year-round. He said the company is also looking at one-way aisles inside stores to help with crowd control. He said it’s already being done in the United Kingdom and Canada and coming to the U.S.