People wearing protective masks shop at a Walmart store in Hallandale Beach, Florida on May 18, 2021.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
Walmart said Friday it will begin requiring masks for store workers in high-risk countries in the US regardless of vaccine status and effective immediately, as set in the latest CDC rankings.
Buyers are strongly advised to wear masks in stores, but it is not required, the retailer said in a memo sent to staff.
Walmart said it will add signage near the entrances to its stores and warehouse clubs to remind customers of the CDC’s revised guidelines. From here, the company will review the business mask rules on a weekly basis.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new recommendation calling for face masks to be worn in areas of the country where the Covid-19 virus is spreading fastest. That covers about two-thirds of all counties in the United States.
The decision came about two months after the CDC said in May that vaccinated people could do without masks. At this point, Walmart also discontinued the mask requirement for vaccinated workers and customers. The delta variant, however, pushed the cases up again and prompted the agency to reassess them.
Walmart also said the incentive for employees to get a Covid vaccine will be doubled to $ 150. Employees who have already received the $ 75 incentive will receive an additional $ 75 in their Aug. 19 paycheck, the company said on Friday.
Walmart will soon introduce a new vaccine status review process for US employees. It is planned to publish more details on this process in the future.
The big box retailer’s policy change comes just a day after Apple requires both vaccinated and unvaccinated customers and employees to wear masks in many of its stores in the United States.
Other retailers, including Macy’s and Gap, have told CNBC that they could review the new CDC guidelines and issue updated rules in the coming days.
Kroger grocery chain’s current policy requires unvaccinated workers to wear masks and requires unvaccinated customers to wear masks in stores, a spokesman said.
Publix Super Markets, which operates more than 1,100 stores primarily in the southeast, now requires its employees to wear masks at all locations regardless of their vaccination status.
The CDC’s turnaround has once again placed retailers in a difficult position. For consumers, country-specific regulations can be confusing, especially for those who have already been vaccinated and feel like they don’t need to put a mask back on. And last year, when large retail chains first introduced mask requirements, it was often branch employees who stopped monitoring bad behavior in stores.
The CDC has now warned House lawmakers that the Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, has a longer transmission window than the original Covid-19 strain, and can make the elderly sicker even if fully vaccinated.
“We know vaccinations are our solution to drive change,” Walmart said in the memo sent to all US employees. “We urge you to get vaccinated and we would like many more of you to be vaccinated.”
The company further emphasized that business travel should currently only be limited to “business-critical” travel.
Walmart is the largest retailer in the United States with approximately 4,700 US stores and the largest private employer with approximately 1.6 million US employees.