CVS, Walmart lead retailers adding requirements for face masks in all stores

As cases of the novel coronavirus spike in several states, two of the country's largest retailers will require customers to wear masks in all locations.

Walmart, including its Sam's Club stores, and CVS Pharmacy announced this week that they would both institute the mask policies. The two companies are likely set a trend in the retail and pharmacy industries, and several other chains followed in Walmart's footsteps, including grocery chain Kroger and retail giant Kohl's.

The National Retail Federation, the industry's largest lobbying group, also issued a statement urging other retailers to take similar steps. Many chains were hesitant to institute mask requirements to avoid pushback from customers that are refusing to wear them.

Walmart's policy begins on July 20, according to a blog post. The retailer will designate associates as health ambassadors, who will be trained to interact with customers who are not wearing masks. At Sam's Club, employees will be able to provide complimentary masks to customers who do not have one.

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CVS will similarly enforce its policy at pharmacies starting July 20, the company announced

"To be clear, we're not asking our store employees to play the role of enforcer," CVS Health chief operating officer Jon Roberts said in a statement. "What we are asking is that customers help protect themselves and those around them by listening to the experts and heeding the call to wear a face covering."

Wearing masks to mitigate the spread of the virus has become an increasingly hot-button political topic as the pandemic wears on. Polling data released this week by Gallup shows that 14% of Americans "never" wear a mask in public, a trend that is particularly high among people who identify as Republican.

Twenty-seven percent of Republicans said they never wear face masks in public, compared to 18% of independents and 1% of Democrats, Gallup's poll found.

At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new call this week for Americans to wear masks, citing reviews of the latest science published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield in an editorial published in JAMA. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus —particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”