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Walmart drops masks at its stores

Walmart said fully vaccinated staff and customers can now leave their masks at home.

Walmart Walmart
Walmart (AP)

Walmart Inc. said fully vaccinated staff and customers can now leave their masks at home, a decision that could influence how other businesses respond to the latest government guidance.

The nation’s biggest private employer said fully vaccinated staff need not wear a mask at work starting May 18, the same day the retailer reports first-quarter results. The rule applies to all of its U.S. Walmart and Sam’s Club locations, distribution centers and offices. Customers who have been inoculated can also shop without face coverings as of Friday, although masks could still be required by some local ordinances, Walmart executives said in a memo to employees Friday.

The move by the world’s largest retailer marks a significant step toward a return to normalcy in American life and could set an example for the industry. Retailers have largely required masks for shoppers and employees over the past year, resulting in occasional clashes with uncooperative customers. But Apple Inc., Target Corp. and other retailers have not yet relaxed their mask requirements, creating a confusing environment for shoppers and employees alike.

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Walmart is not alone, as Costco Wholesale Corp. and Trader Joe’s also said Friday that they were eliminating mask requirements for shoppers. Those retailers won’t require proof that customers have been inoculated. Rather, they’re hoping that customers be responsible and cooperate, while also remembering to don face coverings in towns and cities that still have mask mandates in place.

Apple has informed its U.S. retail stores that a mask mandate and other Covid-19-related procedures remain in place for now, though the iPhone maker says it continues to evaluate health and safety measures. All of its retail stores have required the wearing of masks throughout the pandemic, and some locations have been operating on a limited basis, such as by appointment only.

A number of companies are also reviewing their mask policies after Thursday’s CDC announcement. Target and Home Depot Inc. have decided for now not to adjust their mask requirements. Rite Aid Corp. said its mask policy is still in place pending state and local rules.

Even with the easing of its policy, Trader Joe’s will still require its employees to wear masks, a spokeswoman said. At Costco, customers will still have to wear face coverings in its pharmacy and optical departments, the company said in a statement.

The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that fully vaccinated Americans can largely do away with wearing masks and social distancing, a decision that took many companies aback.

Walmart also said it would give $75 to every employee that gets vaccinated, following companies like Kroger Co., German grocer Lidl and Instacart Inc. that have given cash for proof of shots. Other businesses have given paid time off to get vaccinated.

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