By Dave Sebastian and Sharon Terlep
Walmart Inc. and Kroger Co. will require customers to wear face
coverings inside all their U.S. stores, joining a growing chorus of
big businesses and state leaders deciding that masks are needed to
battle the surge in coronavirus cases and calling for a national
The retail giants, which operate more than 8,000 stores across
the country, said they were adopting their own mask requirements to
protect their staff and customers. Walmart said a lack of federal
rules had left it with a patchwork of local regulations. "We know
this is a simple step everyone can take for their safety and the
safety of others," it said.
They join major U.S. airlines and a growing number of governors,
even those who were initially hesitant to do so, in adopting mask
requirements to stop the spread of the respiratory disease, which
has killed more than 136,000 in the U.S.
Walmart and Kroger have kept their stores open through the
pandemic and required workers to wear masks, but like most
retailers they previously followed local guidelines for shoppers.
"We recognize additional precautions are needed to protect our
country," Kroger said.
Other chains made similar moves after Walmart's announcement
Wednesday, including Kohl's Corp., which operates about 1,000
department stores, and Panera Bread, which has about 2,000
restaurants. Best Buy Co. and Starbucks Corp. had previously
adopted mask rules that kicked in on Wednesday.
There is widespread scientific and medical consensus that face
masks are critical in slowing the virus's spread. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone wear a face
covering in public, especially indoors and when social distancing
isn't possible. President Donald Trump, who wore a mask in public
for the first time this weekend, has resisted calls for a national
mandate. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has left any mask
mandates to states.
An increasing number of states, including hard-hit California
and New York, mandate masks in public but about half of states
don't, including Florida, where there has been a surge in cases,
and Walmart's home state of Arkansas. Many local governments have
mandates in states where they aren't required.
In early July, amid rising case totals, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott,
who once prohibited local officials from requiring masks, did an
about face, ordering most Texans to start wearing them. Alabama
Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday said she would be implementing a
statewide mask order.
The differing rules have prompted business leaders to call on
the White House and state leaders to adopt a national mask policy.
"Issuing voluntary guidance on masks is insufficient to protect
public health" and risks continued community spread and a new round
of shutdowns, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail
Federation and other business groups wrote in a July 2 letter to
the White House and governors.
"Retailers are protecting the health and safety of communities
they serve," the NRF said in a statement issued Wednesday. "Our
elected leaders need to set politics aside and follow their
example." The industry group called on all retailers to adopt
nationwide mask policies, saying Walmart's decision was a tipping
point in the debate.
U.S. airlines began requiring customers to wear masks in May.
Initially, enforcement was lax, but over the last month airlines
have tried to step up enforcement, pledging to ban passengers who
refuse to comply at least until the pandemic passes. Some aviation
unions have said this doesn't go far enough and want a federal rule
requiring masks on planes.
Delta Air Lines Inc. Chief Executive Ed Bastian on Tuesday
stopped short of calling for new regulation, but said it would be
helpful if the federal government would more strongly encourage
people to wear masks throughout their daily lives, including during
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union,
which represents 1.3 million workers in grocery, retail and other
industries, has also called for a national mask mandate. "With
governors in the majority of states refusing to make masks
mandatory, millions of Americans are needlessly being put in danger
every day," said Marc Perrone, the UFCW International
Nearly three-quarters of voters in a new Wall Street Journal/NBC
News poll said they always wear a mask while shopping, working or
when they are around people outside their homes, an
11-percentage-point increase from last month. The share of Trump
supporters who say they always wear masks climbed 15 points since
June, from 39% to 54%.
Businesses have been caught in the middle and taken it upon
themselves to set nationwide masks requirements. Costco Wholesale
Corp. took a lead on the issue and has required masks for shoppers
since May, making it a target for critics of the policies.
Walmart's mask rule begins July 20 for its stores and Sam's Clubs
locations, while Kroger's starts July 22.
About two-thirds of Walmart's 5,000 stores are in areas with
mask mandates. In those places, "virtually everyone either brings a
mask or readily complies with the requirement, and we anticipate
that to happen in other areas as well," said Dacona Smith,
Walmart's chief operating officer, and Lance De La Rosa, Sam's Club
chief operating officer.
Earl Lagorin, an 81-year-old Colorado resident, said he stopped
shopping at one Walmart outside Denver because he didn't find the
wearing of masks to be adequately encouraged. "I think it's
wonderful if they can enforce" the mask policy, he said.
Most major companies, from big-box retailers to pharmacy chains,
require employees to wear masks and ask shoppers to wear them in
places where state or local governments say they are mandatory.
Some of those companies prohibit patrons from entering without a
mask, while others request customers wear one but will still allow
them in if they refuse.
Tony Alfonso, a 46-year-old North St. Paul, Minn., resident,
said he doesn't believe in the effectiveness of masks and won't be
going to Walmart after the new requirement is in effect. He said he
would abide by a store's mask policy if he needs to get an item
that can't be found elsewhere. "A business can do what they want
obviously, but I'm just opposed to it being mandated for people,"
Walmart said it would have staff members at store entrances to
remind visitors who aren't wearing a mask and hand out free masks
to those who didn't bring one. It will make some exceptions to the
requirement. "Our associates will be trained on those exceptions to
help reduce friction for the shopper," Messrs. Smith and De La Rosa
Stores will have a single entrance to ensure the requirement's
The Walmart executives said people have different opinions on
the topic but the company "recognizes 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
Kroger, whose chains include Fred Meyer and Harris Teeter, said
customers with medical conditions may not be able to wear a mask,
and it encourages them to wear a face shield or facial covering
instead. The supermarket operator asks those who are unable to do
so to use the grocer's e-commerce services for pickup or
--Allison Sider contributed to this article.
Write to Dave Sebastian at email@example.com and Sharon
Terlep at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 15, 2020 19:01 ET (23:01 GMT)
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