Retail

Walmart, Costco drop store mask requirement for customers, employees who are fully vaccinated

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Key Points
  • Walmart and Costco said Friday that customers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will not need to wear a mask in its stores and clubs, unless one is required by state or local laws.
  • Walmart said employees can also skip a face mask starting Tuesday, if they are fully vaccinated and verify that with a "yes" or "no" during a daily health assessment.
  • Costco will allow fully vaccinated members and guests to enter without a face mask or face shield.
  • The company's policy change departs from other retailers, including Target, that said they will keep pandemic protocols for now despite the new CDC guidance.

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Exterior view of a Walmart store on August 23, 2020 in North Bergen, New Jersey. Walmart saw its profits jump in latest quarter as e-commerce sales surged during the coronavirus pandemic.
VIEW press | Corbis News | Getty Images

Walmart and Costco said Friday that customers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will not need to wear a mask in its stores, unless one is required by state or local laws.

In a memo sent to employees, the country's largest retailer and employer said the change in its mask policy takes effect immediately at Walmart stores and its membership warehouse, Sam's Club. Starting Tuesday, it said employees who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear a mask while working at its stores, offices or other facilities.

The memo was from John Furner, Walmart U.S. CEO; Kath McLay, Sam's Club CEO; and Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Walmart's executive vice president of health and wellness.

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Costco started to allow fully vaccinated members and guests to enter without a face mask or face shield on Friday in jurisdictions that don't have mask mandates, according to its website. Face coverings are still required in healthcare settings, such as Costco's pharmacy, optical and hearing aid areas.

New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued Thursday, said that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask or stay 6 feet apart from others in most cases, whether indoors or outdoors. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they receive the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson.

Walmart said it is offering a cash incentive and the freedom to work mask-free as part of a push to get more of its workforce vaccinated.

"We're encouraging all associates to get vaccinated and help end this pandemic," they said in the memo. "Do it for your health, your family, your friends, your community and your country – let's help reach our national vaccination goals by the Fourth of July."

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden set a goal of getting 70% of U.S. adults to receive at least one dose of a Covid vaccine by the national holiday. As of Thursday, roughly 47% of the U.S. population — more than 154 million Americans — have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the CDC. About 118 million Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the agency.

Walmart executives said in the memo that the retailer "will continue to request that non-vaccinated customers and members wear face coverings in our stores and clubs." They said stores will have updated signs that reflect that new policy. They did not say if, or how, Walmart will verify if customers are vaccinated or not.

For employees who want to work without wearing a mask at a store, distribution center or other facility, Walmart said it will verify their status by asking them if they have or have not gotten vaccinated. It will rely on the person's "yes" or "no" answer during a daily health assessment.

"Integrity is one of our core values, and we trust that associates will respect that principle when answering," they said in the memo.

However, to get a vaccine-related bonus, Walmart said employees will have to show their original, completed vaccine cards to a store leader or human resources manager. Starting next Tuesday, each person is eligible to receive $75 "as a thank you for getting vaccinated." All U.S. employees below the level of store manager are eligible.

The company said it is "reviewing whether masks may still be required for certain job codes for health and sanitation purposes and will share additional guidance soon." It said employees are welcome to continue wearing masks, if they choose.

Walmart's policy change is a departure from other major retailers, including Target, Gap and Ulta Beauty, that said they will keep pandemic protocols. Trader Joe's, though, said customers could shop without wearing a mask, if they are fully vaccinated.