The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed its mask guidance to recommend that all people wear a mask indoors in areas with “substantial and high transmission” of COVID-19. The change is just beginning to trickle down to retailers, with Apple and Walmart among the first to announce that they will require masks in-store.
The renewed concerns stem from the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant and the large number of unvaccinated people in the country. More than 2,000 counties, or 63% of the counties in the U.S., are facing “substantial and high transmission,” defined as 50 or more new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, according to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
Apple’s mandate requires masks for shoppers and staff alike and covers more than half of its 270 U.S. stores, according to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg. Walmart is requiring staff in areas with “substantial or high transmission” to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Costco has not made an official statement, but the retailer updated its website to note that the retailer will “follow the face mask regulations of the applicable state and local jurisdictions.”
Walmart and Apple were both early adopters of safety measures when the pandemic first hit in 2020. Walmart mandated masks for employees in April 2020 before expanding to all customers in July 2020. Apple, which was not considered an essential retailer, began shutting stores down in March 2020 and had a mask mandate in place when it reopened them in May 2020.
The NRF expressed mixed reactions to the new guidance. The organization noted that “public health and safety is always the number one priority for retailers large and small,” and that “we want every business to remain open, we want to keep people employed, and we want to ensure that consumers have access to the goods and services they expect and need.”
However, it also noted that increased vaccination efforts could be a more effective route to safety. “It is truly unfortunate that mask recommendations have returned when the surest known way to reduce the threat of the virus is widespread vaccination,” said the NRF in a statement. “The CDC’s latest guidance underscores the urgency for more Americans to become fully vaccinated so we can all emerge from this pandemic.”