Starting July 20, Walmart will require shoppers to wears masks inside both Walmart and Sam's Club stores. The move is "to help bring consistency across stores and clubs," according to the company website. "Currently about 65% of our more than 5,000 stores and clubs are located in areas where there is some form of government mandate on face coverings."
It is one of a growing number of retailers, including Costco and Best Buy, that are now requiring shoppers to wear masks. Movie theater chains Regal and AMC are both requiring viewers to wear masks, along with amusement parks like Disney World and Six Flags and airlines such as JetBlue.
The announcement coincides with the Centers for Disease Control's own statement about how crucial it is for Americans to take this precaution. "If we can get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think in the next four, six, eight weeks ... we can get this epidemic under control," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a Journal of the American Medical Association interview.
Each Walmart store will post signage to inform shoppers of the new mask requirements.
To increase awareness and help with enforcement, Walmart will also have "health ambassadors" wearing black polo shirts stationed at the front entrance of each store. Their job is to inform shoppers of the mask requirement and "work with customers who show up at a store without a face covering to try and find a solution," according to the company website.
At Sam's Club, employees will be stationed outside the store to remind members to wear masks. Complimentary masks will be available to members, along with masks for purchase.
Walmart is following the lead of other retailers and businesses who already require shoppers wear masks. For example, Costco has required shoppers wears masks since May 4, and Best Buy started requiring masks on July 15.
Doctors and public health experts agree that wearing a face mask, especially in places where you can't properly social distance, is a key way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Using face masks is "potentially of high value in curtailing community transmission and the burden of the pandemic," according to a recent Arizona State University Study. If 80% of people wore a mask that was only 50% effective, it would prevent up to 45% of projected deaths over two months in New York, the study found.
"Until we have good testing widely available, people should err on the side of caution," Carolyn McClanahan, a physician-turned-financial advisor who serves as the director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners, told Grow.
Yet mask requirements have caused confrontation between shoppers and employees in many stores. When Costco announced its masks requirements, a vocal faction of Costco members took to social media to say they were canceling their membership in light of the new rule.
Video by Jason Armesto
Many stores have been hesitant to require shoppers to wears masks without a federal mandate, as they didn't want to create problems for their own employees if a shopper refused. For example, regional grocery chain Wegmans said they will "not put our people in the position of having to deny entry to our stores," according to CNN. As of today, Wegmans is requiring face masks but will not refuse entrance to a shopper not wearing one, its site says.
A handful of viral videos have shown that the fears were not unfounded. In late June, an unmasked man was caught on tape pushing his way into a Walmart as employees tried to stop him and and ask him to put on a mask. Another mask-less Walmart shopper pulled a gun on a masked Walmart shopper over a confrontation officials believe was about face coverings.
However, acceptance of face mask requirements is increasing, according to the CDC. A May CDC survey of 503 adults showed that 76% of respondents said they would follow mask recommendations outside the home, up from 62% who felt that way in April. The biggest jump in approval was in Midwestern states, where approval of mask requirements jumped from 44% to 74% during that one-month period.
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