Walmart, Sam's Club, Publix update mask policies for employees; encourage customers to wear masks


Walmart and Sam’s Club will again require employees to wear masks regardless of vaccination status in COVID hot spots.

The nation’s largest retailer announced Friday that stores and clubs will require masks for employees effective immediately.

“Customers are strongly encouraged to wear masks, but not required,” the company said in a statement to USA TODAY. Walmart notes the mask requirement for employees is “not applicable in all stores. Managers will refer to the CDC site for updates relevant to their county each Monday.”

The move to bring back masks comes 11 weeks after Walmart dropped the requirement for customers and just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new masking guidelines that recommend people vaccinated for the coronavirus start wearing masks indoors again in areas with substantial or high transmission of COVID-19

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The new CDC mask guidance also recommends that people with underlying conditions that may make them more susceptible to the coronavirus wear masks, along with anyone residing with vulnerable people. 

“We remain focused on guidance issued by health experts, including the CDC, as well as state and local health departments,” Walmart said in a memo to employees, which was provided to USA TODAY. “We will continue to follow the latest CDC guidance, which includes fully vaccinated people wearing masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission, effective immediately.”

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Walmart said managers will “post signage at our stores and clubs to remind customers and members about the CDC’s revised guidance and strongly encourage them to wear masks.” 

In areas where there are state or local mask mandates, Walmart associates will be required to wear masks inside stores, clubs, distribution centers,fulfillment centers and other facilities.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said Friday that corporate staff and management-level employees who work in multiple facilities are required to be vaccinated by Oct. 4, unless they have an approved exception. This requirement does not apply to associates that work in stores, clubs, distribution and fulfillment centers.

Apple was the first retailer to put a mask policy back in place for all consumers, including those who are fully vaccinated. However, Apple’s policy is only in place at half of its 270 U.S. stores.

Walmart wasn’t alone in changing its mask policy in May. Other retailers also quickly changed policies days after the CDC last updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks indoors.

Since May, most states have backed off mask requirements for vaccinated people and some lifted their mask mandates for everyone. Several local governments – including Los Angeles County and St. Louis – recently began requiring vaccinated people to again wear masks, citing concerns about the surging delta variant.

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Walmart increases COVID vaccine incentive for employees

Walmart is doubling the vaccine incentive to $150 for employees who get the vaccine, up from $75. Employees who already received the $75 incentive will receive another $75 in their Aug. 19 paycheck.

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“We continue to watch with deep concern the developments of the pandemic and the spread of variants, especially the Delta variant. We know vaccinations are our solution to drive change,” Walmart’s employee memo said. “We are urging you to get vaccinated and want to see many more of you vaccinated.”

The incentive program will remain in effect until Oct. 4.

The increase comes after President Joe Biden asked states and cities Thursday to use federal rescue funds to provide $100 payments as an incentive for individuals to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

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Publix mandates masks for employees starting Monday

Publix announced Friday that it will require all store employees, regardless of vaccination status, “to wear face coverings over their noses and mouths while inside any Publix location” starting Aug. 2.

“We encourage all to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Publix said in a statement. “Customers and associates should remain physically distanced from others while inside any Publix store.”

Publix previously updated its mask policy in May.

Kroger encourages all to wear a mask

Kroger, the nation’s largest grocer, said its current mask guidance requires unvaccinated associates to wear masks and requests that unvaccinated customers wear masks when in its stores and facilities.

“In light of the Delta variant and updated CDC recommendations, we strongly encourage all individuals, including those who are vaccinated, to wear a mask when in our stores and facilities,” the company said in a statement. “We will continue to abide by all state and local mandates and encourage all Americans to get vaccinated, including our associates.”

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Besides Kroger stores, the Cincinnati-based grocer operates several regional supermarket chains in 35 states, including Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Mariano’s, Fry’s, Smith’s, King Soopers, QFC and others.

Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez, Jeanine Santucci and Kate Mabus, USA TODAY

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko. For shopping news, tips and deals, join us on our Shopping Ninjas Facebook group



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