Mask up, America. Hours after rival Walmart made a similar announcement, The Kroger Co. said it would require all shoppers to wear face coverings in its stores effective July 22.
“We are taking this extra step now because we recognize additional precautions are needed to protect our country,” the Cincinnati-based grocer said in a statement.
The Walmart and Kroger announcements came in the wake of a release earlier this week by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calling on all Americans to wear face coverings to slow the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus, which has already killed more than 130,000 Americans. The announcement comes four months after the virus was declared a pandemic and long after both retailers had required employees wear facial coverings.
The CDC cited two case studies—one from the Journal of the American Medical Association, and another from its own Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report—showing that adherence to universal masking policies reduced transmission and prevented the spread of the deadly virus.
“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in the release. “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.”
U.S. retailers though trade associations and other means have lobbied for national mandates requiring face coverings as a means to reduce COVID-19 transmissions but inconsistent messaging from federal authorities and from the CDC until now—along with a concurrent revolt by some customers—have made proceeding a tricky proposition. Like Walmart, many of Kroger’s stores operate in states and municipalities that have such measures in place already.
The CDC release appears to have pushed retailers to institute broad policies themselves.
Kroger acknowledged that some customers, due to medical reasons, may not be able to wear a mask. It is also exempting small children from wearing face coverings. “We encourage those customers to consider an alternative option like a face shield or facial covering. If they’re unable to wear a mask or an alternative design, we request that they use our e-commerce services like pickup or delivery.”
Kroger has suspended its customary $4.95 pickup fee for months.