Business & Lobbying

Major retailers impose mask mandates for customers nationwide

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Major retailers on Wednesday announced requirements for customers to wear masks in stores as a surge in coronavirus cases nationwide threatens to close businesses again.

Walmart, Best Buy and Kroger were among the companies saying they will now require facial coverings at all U.S. locations. The National Retail Federation (NRF) encouraged other chains to adopt similar policies.

More and more states are imposing similar mask rules for all public spaces, with mounting scientific studies showing the effectiveness of facial coverings in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Retailers, who were hard hit early on in the pandemic, are hoping to avoid another round of lockdowns like the ones in March and April that crippled their in-store revenue. 

“We saw a tipping point in the conversation that was happening, and we decided the time was right to do this,” David French, NRF senior vice president of government relations, told The Hill on Wednesday.

“Obviously, every business is going to make their own decisions. Across the country, though, many stores are operating in jurisdictions where masks are already mandated,” he added. “When you look at the patchwork quilt of current regulatory overlay, it’s already fairly common to be operating under a mask mandate.”

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer with locations in all 50 states, noted in its announcement that about 65 percent of its more than 5,000 locations are in areas where there is some form of government mandate.

Alabama became the latest state to require facial coverings, with Gov. Kay Ivey (R) making the announcement on Wednesday.

But statewide orders don’t necessarily prevent flare-ups from customers who are opposed to the new requirements.

A man in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., who wasn’t wearing a mask recently pulled a gun on a masked shopper in a Walmart on Saturday over a dispute about wearing face coverings, NBC reported.

In Eaton County, Mich., a man who stabbed another man for challenging him about not wearing a mask inside a Quality Dairy store was fatally shot by police officers on Tuesday, ABC reported. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) had mandated face masks indoors the previous day.

In May, a Family Dollar store security guard in Flint, Mich., was fatally shot by a customer who he denied entry to because he wasn’t wearing a mask.

“Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right. If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk,” NRF said in a statement on Wednesday.

Other companies that have already mandated a nationwide mask policy include BJ’s Wholesale Club, Apple, Costco and Panera Bread.

Starbucks announced last week it would require face coverings for customers in all its U.S. locations. The company said that for locations where state or local orders don’t require masks, customers without face coverings can use drive-thrus, curbside pickup, or delivery options.

Labor unions are calling for protections beyond store policies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wear a face cover when out in public, but there is no federal mandate on masks.

UFCW, the union representing more than 1 million retail, grocery and other essential industries workers, is urging the federal government to step in and protect workers following Walmart’s announcement.

“With governors in the majority of states refusing to make masks mandatory, millions of Americans are needlessly being put in danger every day. It’s time for elected leaders to pull their heads out of the sand and make masks mandatory in all 50 states to protect these brave workers and the millions of families they serve,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement.

Florida is one of the states that has not required masks in public. The state reported 132 new coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, setting a record for the highest single-day death toll.

“As COVID-19 spikes across the country continue, frontline workers are continuing to put themselves in harm’s way to make sure our families have the food we need. Without immediate action, these brave workers will continue to get sick and die,” Perrone said. 

Other industries have called on federal agencies to ensure worker safety. 

The international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said Wednesday it is “absurd” that the Federal Aviation Administration has not required airline passengers to wear masks and that the decision has been left up to individual airlines.

“We all want the same thing, which is we want to go back to normal and we want to operate in a way that is safe and that everybody can continue to shop and that’s good for our associates, that’s good for our businesses and that’s good for our consumers,” NRF’s French said.

“Wearing masks is a critical tool to getting back to normal more quickly. We can all make that happen if we wear masks.”

Tags Apple Best Buy Coronavirus Costco COVID-19 FAA face masks facial coverings Family Dollar Kroger Masks National Retail Federation Pandemic Starbucks Walmart
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