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Walmart Joins Starbucks and Costco in Requiring Masks for All Customers

Even in cities and states that don’t legally require people to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these major chains will not allow maskless customers

Shopper wearing face mask pushes a shopping cart through Walmart, walking by an employee wearing plastic gloves. Shutterstock/Photointoto

We’re months into the COVID-19 pandemic, case counts are spiking across the country, and some people still refuse to wear masks when they leave home. Somewhere in the chaos of this pandemic, wearing a mask was framed as a political issue — President Donald Trump wore a mask in public for the first time just four days ago, for instance. The president’s long overdue decision to wear a face mask came as the U.S. broke a daily record, with 68,000 new COVID-19 cases reported on Friday, July 10.

But even as the pandemic worsens, plenty of people still won’t wear masks. They make their displeasure very clear, screaming about federal law in a Trader Joe’s, or shouting incoherently as they throw bulk trays of chicken out of their shopping cart. “I’ve got a fucking mask,” one meat-thrower bellows as she leaves a grocery store, notably clutching it in her hand instead of wearing it.

Now, some major chains are making mask-wearing mandatory on their premises, regardless of local laws. In early May, Costco was one of the first major companies to roll out a national mask-wearing policy, according to Business Insider. Unfortunately, the rule hasn’t stopped plenty of shoppers from doing pretty much whatever they please, putting the lives of workers and fellow shoppers at risk. A video posted to Twitter on July 6 shows a maskless man in a Florida Costco — wearing a shirt that reads “Running the World Since 1776” — screaming violently at the person recording.

Though viral videos show just how difficult it is to enforce a mask-wearing policy, other companies have joined Costco in requiring that customers wear masks. In Texas, where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, the supermarket chain H-E-B made masks mandatory for all customers earlier this month. And beginning next week, all Walmart and Sam’s Club shoppers will be required to wear face masks. Of the 5000-plus Walmart and Sam’s Club locations across the country, CNN reports that 65 percent are in areas where face masks are required by law. That means employees at 35 percent of locations — almost 2000 stores — will have to enforce a face-covering policy where one is otherwise not required by law. As one video after another illustrates, this can put workers at high risk, as indignant customers push back, and get far too close for comfort.

Starbucks, which has required its own employees wear face masks since April, is now requiring customers at all its stores to do the same. The policy went into effect Wednesday, July 15. Those who don’t wish to wear a mask at one of the chain’s 9000 locations can instead order from the drive-thru, or pick up their drinks to-go. Best Buy is also among the national chains scrambling to implement mandatory face-covering policies as the coronavirus continues to spread, putting workers in harm’s way.

As states and counties reverse their reopenings, and restaurants are forced to close or revert to earlier phase reopening restrictions, it’s likely more major chains will follow the lead of businesses like Costco and Starbucks, requiring all of their customers to wear masks. It’s too late to stop a major wave of cases in many states, but implementing a mandatory face covering policy is one step businesses can take to prevent needless sickness, and deaths.