Walmart will require customers to wear face coverings at all of its namesake and Sam's Club stores in the U.S., making it the largest retailer to introduce such a policy that has otherwise proven difficult to enforce without state and federal requirements.
The company said the policy would go into effect on Monday to allow time to inform stores and customers. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said currently about 65% of its more than 5,000 stores and clubs are located in areas where there is already some form of government mandate on face coverings.
The retailer also said it would create the role of health ambassador at its Walmart stores and will station them near the entrance to remind customers without masks of its new requirements. These workers, who will be wearing black polo shirts, will receive special training to "help make the process as smooth as possible for customers."
Walmart joins a growing list of retailers that have instituted mask mandates throughout their chains, including Best Buy Starbucks. Both policies were in effect Wednesday. Costco Wholesale Club was one of the first major retailers to require face coverings for customers at all of its stores. The policy went into effect in early May.
The moves come as new COVID-19 cases are spiking in many states, particularly Arizona, California, Florida and Texas. Retailers have been challenged with striking a balance between keeping shoppers safe while making them feel comfortable.
Last week, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Walmart and other major chains, publicized a letter it sent to state governors to mandate store customers to wear face coverings. It said the hodgepodge of rules around the country had created confusion for shoppers and that has led to conflict between customers and workers trying to enforce store rules.
The National Governors Association said its members were discussing the letter and others like it from different retail groups.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people cover their mouth and nose when around other people to help reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Fewer than half of U.S. states require masks in public places, according to the RILA.
"We know some people have differing opinions on this topic,'' wrote Dacona Smith, chief operating officer at Walmart U.S. and Lance de la Rosa, chief operating officer at Sam's Club in a blog posted Wednesday. "We also recognize the role we can play to help protect the health and well-being of the communities we serve by following the evolving guidance of health officials like the CDC."