NEW YORK: Walmart announced Wednesday that it would require shoppers to wear face masks, joining an increasing number of businesses in mandating the protection amid the latest spike in US coronavirus cases.
The world’s biggest retailer, which had previously encouraged masks on consumers but not required them, said the mandate would take effect July 20.
That will give the company time to post signage and train “health ambassadors” to facilitate the process of requiring an item that has been a cultural flashpoint in the US throughout the country’s struggle with Covid-19.
“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,” said a memo by two executives at Walmart, US Chief Operating Officer Dacona Smith and Lance de la Rosa, chief operating officer at Sam’s Club.
“Because the virus can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms and don’t know they are infected, it’s critically important for everyone to wear a face covering in public and social distance.”
Walmart’s move comes a day after Best Buy joined the list of companies requiring coverings.
On Tuesday, Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastian said on CNBC face coverings are required of customers and that travellers who refuse to don masks won’t be permitted to fly on the carrier again.
In recent weeks, the campaign to require face coverings has picked up support beyond public circles, including from economists at Goldman Sachs and from Dallas Federal Reserve Chief Robert Kaplan, who has championed masks as a vital step to managing the US coronavirus crisis and returning the economy to health.
But mask mandates have led to friction in stores around the US, spawning numerous videos of irate customers clashing with retail employees that have been widely distributed on social media.
President Donald Trump, who for months resisted wearing a mask and at times mocked the trend, was finally photographed in a covering last weekend during a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Walmart said it would make exceptions in some cases.
“We know it may not be possible for everyone to wear a face covering,” the memo said. “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.”