(Gray News) - Retail giant Walmart will soon require customers to wear face masks inside all of its stores.
The company announced the policy will begin July 20 at more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations.
Walmart said 65% of its stores are already located in areas where there is a government face mask mandate.
Company leaders say the policy change comes as they look to prioritize the health and safety of customers and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walmart will have an employee dedicated to enforcing the company’s requirements at store entrances.
“The ambassadors, identifiable by their black polo shirts, will work with customers who show up at a store without a face covering to try and find a solution,” the company said. “We are currently considering different solutions for customers when this requirement takes effect on July 20.”
Sam’s Club members who show up without a mask will be provided a complimentary mask.
Hours after Walmart's announcement, supermarket chain Kroger, based in Cincinnati, and department store Kohl's, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, followed suit. Kohl's policy will go into effect on Monday, while Kroger's mask protocol will go into effect July 22.
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart, Kohl’s and Kroger join a growing but still small list of retailers to require masks at all of its stores, filling the role of states and the federal government that have failed to issue such mandates on an issue that has been highly politicized by President Donald Trump and many of his ardent supporters. Given Walmart’s clout as the largest retailer in the U.S., its decision is expected to push many others to issue similar mandates.
Last week, Starbucks announced that customers who visit its company-owned café locations in the U.S. will be required to wear face coverings. The policies at Starbucks and Best Buy went into effect Wednesday.
Only a handful of major retailers, including teen clothing chain American Eagle Outfitters and Apple, has a mask mandate for customers for all of its stores. Costco Wholesale Club was one of the first major retailers to require face coverings for customers at all of its stores. The policy went into effect in early May.
The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, said in a statement that it hopes Walmart’s move will be a “tipping point in this public health debate.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been consistent about recommending people cover their mouth and nose when around others to help reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. But at the beginning of the lockdowns, it had discouraged people who were not sick from buying masks for fear of taking away what was then a limited supply for health care workers.
“We know some people have differing opinions on this topic,” wrote Dacona Smith, chief operating officer at Walmart U.S. and Lance de la Rosa, chief operating officer at Sam’s Club in a blog posted Wednesday. “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.”