Walmart Inc. of Bentonville says that, starting Monday, it will require all shoppers to wear face coverings in its stores and clubs.
In a Wednesday blog post, Dacona Smith and Lance de la Rosa, the chief operating officers of Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club, respectively, said 65% of its more than 5,000 stores and Sam's Clubs are in areas where there is "some form of government mandate on face coverings" to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
"To help bring consistency across stores and clubs, we will require all shoppers to wear a face covering starting Monday, July 20," the two wrote. "This will give us time to inform customers and members of the changes, post signage and train associates on the new protocols."
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon indicated earlier this week that the company could be considering such a requirement. During an interview with Bloomberg, McMillon noted that masks had been required in about 3,700 of its U.S. stores "where either governor or someone else has mandated it."
"We don't currently, as we're doing this interview, mandate that in our other stores, but that's obviously something that's on our minds," McMillon said.
Walmart joins a growing list of retailers that have instituted mask mandates. Best Buy, the nation's largest consumer electronics retailer, announced Tuesday that it will have a mask mandate for its customers at all its stores. Starbucks announced last week that customers who visit its company-owned café locations in the U.S. will be required to wear face coverings. Both policies were in effect Wednesday.
The moves come as new COVID-19 cases are spiking in many states, particularly Arizona, California, Florida and Texas. Retailers have been challenged with striking a balance between keeping shoppers safe while making them feel comfortable.
Last week, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Walmart, Best Buy and other major chains, publicized a letter it sent to state governors to mandate store customers to wear face coverings. It said the hodgepodge of rules around the country have created confusion for shoppers and that has led to conflict between customers and workers trying to enforce store rules. Social media has shown some customers getting angry and confronting store employees when asked to wear masks.
Walmart said Wednesday that it created the new role of "health ambassador" and will station them near store entrances "to remind those without a mask of our new requirements.
"Our ambassadors will receive special training to help make the process as smooth as possible for customers," Smith and de la Rosa wrote. "The ambassadors, identifiable by their black polo shirts, will work with customers who show up at a store without a face covering to try and find a solution. We are currently considering different solutions for customers when this requirement takes effect on July 20."
At Sam's Clubs, the retailer will provide masks to customers, who pay a membership fee to shop there, who don't have them. Customers will also be able to buy masks at the club, the company said.
Fewer than half of U.S. states require masks in public places, according to the RILA. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has resisted calls for such a mandate, saying he doesn't want to install a rule "that is unenforceable." But he eventually endorsed a model ordinance cities could adopt that requires masks in public places that does not contain penalties for violations. Cities adopting the ordinance include Bentonville, Conway, Helena-West Helena, Hot Springs, North Little Rock, Rogers and Tontitown.
The city of Fayetteville adopted its own ordinance, which has no specific penalties for an individual's failure to comply. But businesses could face up to a $500 fine for failure to enforce the mandate if their failure was because of "willful neglect." Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott issued an executive order requiring masks, but it doesn't detail penalties for violators.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people cover their mouth and nose when around other people to help reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)