An increasing number of retailers will soon require all of their customers to wear a face covering in their stores. CVS Pharmacy, Kroger, Publix, Schnucks and Walgreens all announced nationwide face covering requirements Thursday.
CVS Pharmacy's, Walgreens' and Shnucks' policies will take effect on July 20, while Publix's will take effect on July 21. Kroger, which announced the mandate in a tweet, said that its policy would be effective July 22. The retailers' policies follow Walmart and Sam's Club announcement Wednesday that they would begin requiring face coverings starting on July 20 as well. Walmart's mask mandate was accompanied by the introduction of health ambassadors, in-store associates who will ensure customers are wearing a face covering and work with customers not wearing one to reach a solution.
Schnucks noted that it would be posting signs on every store entrance noting the requirement and directing shoppers without masks to an employee who can supply one. Shnucks will be giving masks to customers without one on a one-per-customer basis while supplies last. Like Walmart, it will make an associate available to greet customers seven days a week. Walgreens and Publix said that there would be signage on exterior doors and in-store announcements would offer reminders via intercom. Publix noted that while it does have an exception for young children and customers with medical conditions who are unable to wear face coverings — as Schnucks does — it encouraged those customers to use curbside pick-up and delivery options.
The face covering requirements largely are aimed at chain-wide uniformity, as many stores already have been affected by state and local mask mandates. Additionally, all of the retailers have required that masks be worn by employees at all times since the onset of the pandemic.
While there has been some controversy over requiring face coverings, retailers said that the move is in accordance with experts' recommendations about slowing the spread of the virus as many states see an uptick in COVID-19 incidences.
"To be clear, we're not asking our store employees to play the role of enforcer," said CVS Health COO John Roberts. "What we are asking is that customers help protect themselves and those around them by listening to the experts and heeding the call to wear a face covering."
“We support the new CDC guidance that urges the use of face covers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Kevin Ban, Walgreens chief medical officer. “As cases continue to rise in many parts of the country, it’s critical we, as businesses and members of the community, do everything we can.”
Schnucks chairman and CEO Todd Schnuck said, "We understand that there are a variety of opinions about masks, however the CDC and other health experts are aligned on the benefits of facial coverings in reducing the spread of COVID-19.”
The National Retail Federation issued a statement Wednesday noting that it hoped Walmart's announcement would serve as a "tipping point in this public health debate" and urged all retailers to implement face covering requirements to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
"Since the onset of the pandemic, retailers of all sizes have been on the front lines safely serving customers and supporting their communities," NRF's statement said. "Stores are private businesses that can adopt policies permitted by law for the health and safety of their associates and their customers. 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."
As of June 15, according to the World Health Organization, the United States had a total of 3.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 58,720 new cases on Wednesday. More than 135,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, with 349 new nationwide deaths reported Wednesday.