To Mask or Not to Mask? How Retailers Are Approaching the CDC’s New Guidelines

Retailers are rethinking some of their COVID-19 policies after federal health officials recently eased their guidelines surrounding the use of face masks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fully vaccinated people will no longer need to wear face masks in most indoor and outdoor settings. (The public health agency defines “fully vaccinated” as those who have allowed two weeks to pass since receiving their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson.) In response, a number of companies have shared with FN plans to either keep certain safety protocols in place or adjust them in accordance with the new guidance.

Here’s how some independent retailers and nationwide chains are approaching the pandemic exit at their stores, distribution centers and other facilities.


Starting today, fully vaccinated customers will be able to shop at Kohl’s stores across the country with or without a face mask. Employees who are fully vaccinated will also no longer be required to wear face masks. However, the company continues to “strongly recommend” that non-vaccinated shoppers and employees wear face masks in stores. “The health and safety of our customers and associates has been our priority throughout the pandemic,” it said in a statement. “We will continue to follow city and state ordinances where masks continue to be required.”


In a statement to FN, a Macy’s spokesperson said that the department store’s existing COVID-19 policy has not changed at this time, but management is “reviewing the guidelines.” According to the retailer’s website, all customers are required to wear a face mask while shopping in stores and maintain a six-foot physical distance from others to reduce the spread of the virus. All workers have also been provided with company-issued cloth coverings, which they must wear “at all times.”


Target no longer mandates face masks for fully vaccinated customers and employees, except where required by local ordinances. According to the big-box chain, they will still be “strongly recommended” to don coverings if they’re not fully vaccinated. “We continue our increased safety and cleaning measures, including social distancing, throughout our stores,” the company added. It is also offering COVID-19 vaccine appointments at nearly all CVS at Target locations for shoppers and workers. Hourly store associates will be given paid time off and free Lyft rides of up to $15 each way to get to and from their appointments.


Based on the latest CDC guidance, fully vaccinated employees will not need to wear a face mask at work starting May 18. The policy applies to all facilities, including Walmart’s stores, clubs, distribution centers, fulfillment centers and offices. The big-box chain is also providing a “thank you” bonus of $75 to hourly and salaried field-level workers who get vaccinated. (It offers vaccines in all of its more than 5,100 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies.) For customers, however, those who are vaccinated are now welcome to shop without a face mask, depending on city and state ordinances.

Hawley Lane Shoes

The Connecticut-based shoe store has decided to keep its face mask policy in place for employees as it continues to monitor CDC guidance. While it plans to keep up signs encouraging customers to wear face masks in stores, co-owner David Levy explained that shoppers will not be required to wear face masks in stores. “Over the two weeks following implementation of the new mask guidelines, we will be monitoring the science and positivity rates and reassess our policy accordingly in the best interest of our employees and customers,” he said, adding that it will increase sanitation as well as use shields for footwear try-ons at stores.


As the country opens up, Concepts will continue to follow the mask guidelines set forth by the CDC and local government health officials until a change is announced. “Once everything is lifted and we obtain a green light allowing us to operate normally without restrictions, we will lift the mask requirement for vaccinated customers,” Concepts CEO Tarek Hassan said. As for vaccines, the executive explained that customers will not be questioned whether or not they have been vaccinated. Because of this, Hassan said employees will continue to wear masks until they feel comfortable working without one. Beyond masks and vaccines, Concepts will continue to employ its heightened sanitation and cleanliness standards, which will now become its new standard.

TGS (Parent of Extra Butter)

For now, the TGS stores, which includes Extra Butter, will continue to require shoppers and its staff wear masks. “There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to COVID-19, and we feel it’s safer for everyone involved if we stay vigilant until everyone is vaccinated or we know more,” explained TGS CEO Ankur Amin. Although masks are required, Amin said that staff is not asking customers if they have been vaccinated.


On its website, Gap — parent to its namesake brand, as well as the Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta chains — wrote that it would closely follow official COVID-19 recommendations of the World Health Organization and the CDC, as well as local government mandates. Employees are still required to wear masks when working at the company’s outposts, headquarters, corporate offices and customer experience centers (formerly known as distribution centers). Customers who are not fully vaccinated are advised to wear masks at stores.

This story will continue to be updated.

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