Walmart to require face masks for all US customers


Walmart will require all of its customers in the US to wear face masks, making the world’s largest retailer the latest company to act on its own in the face of a mixed response to the new US outbreak from government authorities.

About 65 per cent of Walmart’s 5,000 stories and Sam’s Club locations are in regions where face coverings are already mandatory, the company said, adding that it is acting to “bring consistency across stores and clubs”.

Although some states like California have acted aggressively with new health mandates and actions to reverse economic reopening, other states hit by the new outbreak, including Florida, have been more reticent, producing a patchwork of rules and restrictions across the US south and west.

That has left individual companies to decide on their own how to respond. Wholesale retailer Costco, electronics retailer Best Buy, Starbucks and American Eagle Outfitters have issued mask mandates for customers. Apple has re-closed retail stores across the south and west while McDonald’s last week halted its reopening schedule.

The US Federal Reserve, in its regular Beige Book survey of current economic conditions, warned that the wave of shutdowns could hit the gradual rebound from the worst of the Covid-19 slump in states like Texas, which has been one of the hardest hit.

The Fed’s regional bank in Dallas found that the resurgence of infections and the “pause in the reopening” of the region’s economy was sparking new concerns among regional business contacts.

According to its own survey of Texas manufacturing and services employers, 43 per cent were still reporting reduced employment due to the pandemic, with 26 per cent saying it would take more than a year to get back to pre-Covid levels. Another 19 per cent said they do not ever expect employment to get back to normal.

Florida remains the hardest-hit state in the new outbreak, reporting 10,181 new cases over the preceding 24 hours. That pushed the state’s total over 300,000 infections since the pandemic began; only longtime hotspot New York, which had just over 403,000, and emerging hotspot California, with nearly 337,000 cases, have had more.

Wednesday was the fifth time in six days Florida reported an increase of more than 10,000 infections. It also reported 112 deaths, just below a record 133 on Tuesday. California reported a further 11,126 cases and 140 new fatalities, just nine short of its one-day high recorded last week.

Walmart’s face mask policy is due to start on Monday, the company said, and all its stores will have a single entrance manned by so-called health ambassadors — a new employee role — to remind customers of the requirement.

The company said the ambassadors “will work with customers who show up at a store without a face covering to try and find a solution”.

The use of masks has become politicised as some Americans argue mandates infringe on their freedom of choice. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged people to wear masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Alabama became the latest southern state to impose a mask requirement, with Governor Kay Ivey issuing an order on Wednesday that requires people to wear face coverings in almost all public areas.

Oklahoma has been one of the states resisting the imposition of more stringent lockdown measures, but on Thursday its governor, Kevin Stitt, became the first leader of a US state to test positive for the virus.

Walmart said in a statement. “We also recognise the role we can play to help protect the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve by following the evolving guidance of health officials like the CDC.”

Additional reporting by Matthew Rocco in New York

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