Retailers want consistency on mask guidance, says RILA

Marianne Wilson
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The CDC’s has relaxed its mask guidance for fully vaccinated people but that does not necessarily mean that retailers will be doing the same — at least not all of them right now.

One retailer that has changed its mask policy, however is Walmart. The discounter said that as of May 14, vaccinated customers and members can shop without a mask, and that it will continue to request that non-vaccinated customers and members wear face coverings in its stores and clubs.  The company is updating the signage in its stores to reflect the updated policy.

In addition,  Walmart said that its fully vaccinated employees will no longer be required to wear a mask at work, starting on May 18. (Walmart said that "fully vaccinated” means it has been two weeks since a person received the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson.) The policy applies to all facilities, including the chain's stores, clubs, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and offices.

"Masks will also continue to be required by some city and state ordinances, and we will follow those requirements," Walmart said. "There may also be local conditions, regulatory changes or laws that affect our guidance."

In addition, Walmart is providing a $75 bonus to its U.S. field employees for getting fully vaccinated. It will be given to those who have already been fully vaccinated and those who do so in the future. The bonus applies to all current, hourly and salaried field-based Walmart, Sam's Club and supply chain associates below the level of facility manager.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association said that the recent CDC announcement on masks creates ambiguity for retailers because it fails to fully align with state and local orders. The group said that retailers need consistency on mask guidance.

“These conflicting positions put retailers and their employees in incredibly difficult situations,” said Lisa LaBruno, senior executive VP, retail operations, Retail Industry Leaders Association. “We urge state and local governments to coordinate with the CDC as additional guidance is issued on the road to normalcy.”

In a report on Friday by Business Insider, Kroger said it would keep masks mandates for its customers and workers at its nearly 3,000 stores and, as it has done all through the pandemic, is reviewing current safety practices, the CDC's latest guidance, “and soliciting feedback from associates to guide the next phase of our policy."

LaBruno said that retailers will continue to prioritize the safety of employees first, as they have done throughout the pandemic. 

“We urge all retail customers and guests to follow a store’s safety protocols including wearing a mask and social distancing,” she said. “Frontline workers deserve this respect.”