The world’s largest retailer was among the first to drop its mask mandate following an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors, except in some circumstances.
Walmart announced its decision May 14, a day after the CDC posted its new guidance on mask-wearing. The CDC’s announcement, which kept the federal mask requirement for public transportation and recommendations for traveling, was met with some skepticism and confusion. Some state and local laws may still require mask-wearing mandates, the CDC noted, and businesses could also maintain their own requirements.
Walmart was the first major retailer to make the jump to lift its mask requirements for vaccinated customers as well as employees. Walmart’s size makes it likely that other retailers will follow with similar policy changes.
However, the retailer won’t be checking who is actually vaccinated, causing some to question whether the policy could reverse efforts to reduce spread of the COVID-19 virus. The CDC’s guidance also leaves some confusion on which recommendations customers and employees should aim to follow.
“These conflicting positions put retailers and their employees in incredibly difficult situations,” Lisa LaBruno, senior executive vice president of retail operations with the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said in a statement. “We urge state and local governments to coordinate with the CDC as additional guidance is issued on the road to normalcy.”
Warehouse retailer Costco also said it would no longer require vaccinated guests to wear masks in U.S. locations with no state or local requirements. Masks will still be required in Costco’s healthcare settings, including its pharmacy, optical and hearing aid services. Like Walmart, Costco won’t be checking which customers are vaccinated.
“We will not require proof of vaccination, but we ask for members’ responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy,” CEO Craig Jelinek wrote in a memo dated May 14.
One major retailer that hasn’t changed its mask-wearing policy is Kroger. The grocer said it would continue to require face coverings for customers and employees at its nearly 3,000 stores.
In an effort to boost vaccinations among its employees, Walmart announced a $75 cash bonus to its U.S. field-based Walmart, Sam’s Club and supply chain associates below the level of facility manager as “a thank you for getting vaccinated.” To receive the bonus, associates will need to provide proof of vaccination.
Employees who are fully vaccinated will no longer be required to wear masks at Walmart’s stores, clubs, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and offices, while unvaccinated associates will still need to wear face coverings. Walmart offers free COVID-19 vaccines in all of its more than 5,100 Walmart and Sam’s Clubs locations. The retailer is offering employees two hours of paid time off to get vaccinated, or associates can do so while on the clock.
“These are positive developments,” reads the announcement from John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart, U.S.; Kath McLay, president and CEO of Sam’s Club; and Dr. Cheryl Pegus, executive vice president of health and wellness. “We can do this. We’ve been through a lot this year, and now we need to do our part to finish this. We encourage you to get vaccinated and to tell your friends and fellow associates.”