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Walmart, Kroger and Kohl's Will Require Masks on Customers

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A woman wears a face mask at a Walmart store in Washington, DC on July 15, 2020. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP via Getty Images

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, will start requiring next week that all its stores in the U.S. deny entry to any customer not wearing a mask, as CNN reported. The announcement comes after months of a pandemic that has led to more than 3.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 130,000 deaths nationwide.


Walmart's efforts to quell the surge in coronavirus cases may set off a watershed moment for retailers nationwide to make masks a requirement in all their stores. Kroger and Kohl's also announced Wednesday that they would start requiring all customers to wear masks, suggesting that retailers are lining up behind mask-wearing mandates, even as the issue has been politically charged for months, according to CNN.

Walmart noted that currently about 65 percent of its more than 5,000 stores and clubs are located in areas with some form of government mandate on face coverings, as The Hill reported. The new policy is in place to help bring consistency, the company said.

"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," Dacona Smith, Walmart U.S. chief operating officer, and Lance de la Rosa, Sam's Club chief operating officer, wrote in a press release, according to The Hill.

The National Retail Federation, the main lobbying group for the industry, also called on retailers to require masks for customers.

"Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right," said the National Retail Federation, as The Washington Post reported. "If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk."

The announcements were made just hours after Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, declared that coronavirus outbreaks could be "under control" within one or two months if the public adopts widespread mask use, according to The Washington Post.

"Walmart has a great deal of influence in this regard," said Alan Ellstrand, professor at the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, to CNN. "It may signal to the public that if a large retailer like Walmart supports requiring customers to wear a mask, it is good for Americans to do so more broadly as well."

Embracing masks as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus has extended to Republican governors who broke ranks with the White House. Governors in Alabama and Montana, both of which have seen record numbers of cases recently, announced that masks will be required in public places, according to The Washington Post.

Most major retailers and grocers were initially hesitant to enforce their own mask policies for customers during the pandemic, partly over fears of angering customers and partly over an unwillingness to put their low-wage workers in the position of enforcing an unpopular mandate, according to CNN. A security guard at a Family Dollar in Michigan was shot and killed for asking a customer to wear a mask and videos of customers having tantrums about wearing masks have gone viral recently.

Walmart will try to stop the number of arguments over mask-wearing at the door. The company will only have one entrance per store and will place a newly created health ambassador there. They will also increase their signage about the policy.

If the customer refuses to wear a mask for moral or health reasons, the health ambassador will figure out an alternate shopping solution, like having an employee gather items from a shopping list.

"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," Smith and de la Rosa wrote in their press release, according to The Hill.

"We know some people have differing opinions on this topic," the news release added, according to The Washington Post. "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."

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