Beginning Monday, July 20, Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) will require customers at all its Walmart and Sam’s Club stores to wear a mask of face covering. In announcing the new requirement, the company noted that about 65% of its more than 5,000 stores are located in areas of the country where some sort of government mandate to wear masks is already in place.
Since the first U.S. death from COVID-19, the U.S. has confirmed more than 3.45 million cases and 136,807 deaths related to the infection. In many areas of the country, restrictions calling on people to stay home, to maintain social distancing, and to wear a facemask were lifted in May only to see infections and death counts beginning rising again.
By requiring shoppers to wear masks, Walmart joins forces with other big retailers like Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY), Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ: COST), and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) that already require a face covering for customers.
Calling the mandate “a simple step” to help keep its customers safe, Walmart executives Dacona Smith and Lance de la Rosa noted that the policy will “help bring consistency across stores and clubs.”
Walmart–and every other retail store–wants to avoid an incident like the killing of a Family Dollar store security guard in Flint, Michigan. The guard, Calvin Munerlyn, had reminded a customer of a state mandate to wear a facemask. The customer left only to return later with two family members, one of whom is alleged to have shot and killed Munerlyn.
Arguments over mask-wearing have become a political litmus test and made it almost impossible to discuss facemask mandates in any but the most strident way.
Walmart hopes to defuse the clashes by assigning “Health Ambassadors” to be present at the soon-to-be single entrance to a store. These employees will receive special training to help them “work with customers who show up at a store without a face covering to try and find a solution.” The store said it is currently considering a range of solutions.
At Sam’s Club stores, store employees at the entrance will “politely” remind customers who are not wearing a mask of the store’s new policy. Customers will be given a make if they don’t have one or they can purchase masks inside the store.
The company noted that in states where masks have been mandated, “virtually everyone either brings a mask or readily complies with the requirement.” Walmart is hoping for similar results.