- Walmart will require all customers at all of its stores, including Sam’s Club locations, to wear masks beginning next Monday, the company announced Wednesday.
- To facilitate compliance, Walmart has created a new health ambassador role for its stores. “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,” company executives wrote in a blog post. Stores will also provide additional training to employees, operate a single entrance and post signs reminding customers of the requirement. Sam’s Club locations will provide masks to any member who doesn’t have one.
- “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,” Dacona Smith, chief operating officer of Walmart U.S. and Lance de la Rosa, chief operating officer of Sam’s Club, noted in the post.
Walmart is not the first retailer to require its shoppers to wear masks in stores. But it is by far the largest and most influential company to do so, and its decision promises to impact the national conversation surrounding the safety practice.
Retailers across the country are encouraging shoppers to wear face masks, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes can significantly stem the spread of the coronavirus and is particularly useful considering many infected individuals are asymptomatic. And many chains have fallen under local and state directives that require shoppers to wear masks. Walmart noted that around 65% of its more than 5,000 locations are currently under some form of government mandate involving face coverings.
But companies have been reluctant to issue blanket requirements across their stores, in part due to enforcement concerns and also due to the growing politicization of mask wearing. Social media and local news reports have documented numerous confrontations between shoppers and employees over mask-wearing policies. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that an unmasked shopper inside a Florida Walmart pulled out a firearm when other shoppers confronted him.
To aid enforcement, Walmart will rely on its health ambassadors. Although the company didn’t go into detail about the new position, a primary role will be speaking with customers who try to enter stores without a face covering. Walmart said it’s still determining alternative solutions for shoppers that won’t or can’t wear masks. Other companies have instructed employees to inform customers about their online shopping options, or to even do the shopping for customers. Most chains have instructed their workers not to openly confront any customers who refuse to wear masks.
Walmart noted that the majority of customers comply with mask-wearing mandates in stores that require them, and that it anticipates this will happen in other areas as the chain-wide rule goes into effect.
Walmart’s new policy is an acknowledgement of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. The virus has infected more than 3 million Americans and led to more than 135,000 deaths. The infection rate is rising across the country, with more than 65,000 new cases reported on Tuesday, according to the CDC.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has called for a nationwide mask-wearing requirement, said June 25 that 82 of the grocery workers it represents have died from COVID-19 and that more than 11,000 have been directly impacted in some way by the virus. United for Respect, an organization that tracks Walmart’s labor practices, has reported 807 cases among the company’s workers, according to Bloomberg.
Costco, Best Buy and East Coast grocer The Fresh Market also require shoppers to wear face coverings. Whole Foods currently hands out masks to customers who don’t have one. Starting today, all customers inside Starbucks’ company-owned cafés are required to wear masks.