With the number of known COVID-19 cases in the U.S. near 3.5 million and deaths just under 137,000, Walmart and Sam’s Club said Wednesday (July 15) they will require customers to wear face masks when shopping in their stores.
The new rule goes into effect July 20 in order to give Walmart time to inform customers and employees of the changes, post signage and train associates on the new protocols, according to a news release.
The retail giant said about 65% of its nearly 5,000 stores are located in jurisdictions where face masks are already required by a government mandate. This move to require all stores to enforce the wearing of face coverings will bring consistency to the shopping experience at Walmart.
Kroger also announced Wednesday it will require face masks in the almost 3,000 U.S. stores it operates.
That’s not the only change Walmart is making according to Dakota Smith, chief operations officer for Walmart U.S. He said Walmart has created the role of health ambassador who will be stationed near the entrance to remind those without a mask of the new requirements.
“Our ambassadors will receive special training to help make the process as smooth as possible for customers. 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,” Smith noted in the release.
At Sam’s Club, the employees at the entrance will follow the same process with members, “politely” reminding customers of the requirement to wear a face-covering when shopping.
“Complimentary masks will be provided if the member doesn’t have one. Or members can purchase masks in 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,” noted Lance de la Rosa, chief operating officer at Sam’s Club.
Walmart noted that “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.”
The retail giant is following the recommendation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who said face coverings help decrease the spread of COVID-19. This is important because the virus can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms and don’t know they are infected. Walmart said it’s critically important for everyone to wear a face-covering in public and social distance, and the company understands 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. We appreciate the understanding and cooperation of our customers and members in wearing face coverings to protect their safety and the safety of our associates,” Walmart noted in the release.
The National Retail Federation said it hoped the decision by Walmart is “a tipping point in this public health debate” about masks, and called on all retailers to require customers to wear masks.
“As noted in a letter we co-signed with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and other industry groups that was sent to President Trump, Vice President Pence and governors across the country two weeks ago, it is critically important that we have a national mask standard implemented locally. Retailers are protecting the health and safety of communities they serve. Our elected leaders need to set politics aside and follow their example,” the NRF noted in its statement.
The Walmart announcement comes on the heels of a similar one from Best Buy made on Tuesday, (July 14). Best Buy’s new policy goes into effect today (July 15) and applies to all of the company’s approximately 1,000 stores across the country. Best Buy said it will provide face coverings for customers who don’t have one, and small children and customers unable to wear a mask for health reasons can shop without one.
Starbucks also recently announced it will require customers to wear facial coverings in all of its 9,000 locations in the U.S. beginning today (July 15). Costco issued a mask mandate in May.