What Walmart’s Face Mask Policy Really Means for Customers

They say there’s an exception to every rule — and that appears to be the case with Walmart’s face mask mandate.

Effective July 20, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer began requiring customers at all of its 5,000-plus stores to wear face coverings. The company said about 65% of its stores are based in areas where there was already some form of government mandate on masks.

To monitor the mask policy, Walmart has created a new role of health ambassador. These ambassadors, who are uniformed in black polos, are stationed near the store entrance to remind uncovered customers of the mask mandate. According to CNN, health ambassadors have been told to never engage with unmasked customers physically or to bar them from entering. Instead, unmasked shoppers should be allowed into the store and ambassadors should notify managers, according to talking points provided for workers. Management is then instructed to ask the uncovered customer if they would like a complimentary mask — and customers may continue to shop if they decline a covering. The procedure is virtually the same at Sam’s Club.

What’s more, Walmart has exempted small children from its policy, as well as individuals who are unable to wear masks due to health conditions or religious beliefs. The company has added signage to inform customers of these exemptions, and it also is announcing them over its loudspeakers.

“We know it may not be possible for everyone to wear a face covering,” wrote Dacona Smith, COO of Walmart U.S., and Lance de la Rosa, COO of Sam’s Club in a statement. “Our associates will be trained on those exceptions to help reduce friction for the shopper and make the process as easy as possible for everyone.”

“As we have seen in states and municipalities with mask mandates, virtually everyone either brings a mask or readily complies with the requirement, and we anticipate that to happen in other areas as well,” Smith and de la Rosa added. “We appreciate the understanding and cooperation of our customers and members in wearing face coverings to protect their safety and the safety of our associates.”

While most customers have apparently complied with face mask requirements at retail stores, there have been reports of some confrontations between unmasked shoppers and associates. For instance, in May, a security guard at a Michigan Family Dollar store was shot after telling a customer her child had to wear a mask to enter the store. A viral video earlier this month showed a Skechers shopper in Oklahoma throwing shoe boxes at employees after being told to wear a face mask.

Retail trade organizations have called on the federal government to institute national policies regarding face masks to prevent instances of violence against store workers, as well as to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases — and the reclosure of businesses.

In a letter addressed to President Donald Trump earlier this month, the American Apparel and Footwear Association — which represents more than 1,000 companies across the United States — urged the leader to institute federal protocols for face masks to assist retailers’ efforts to safely reopen stores to the public.

“As we enter the next stage of our COVID-19 response and recovery, we are confronted with a stark choice,” AAFA president and CEO Steve Lamar wrote. “If we do not require widespread use of face masks in enclosed public spaces, we will likely endure additional widespread business shutdowns.”

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