With concern rising over retail workers contracting or spreading the coronavirus, Walmart this week said it would begin taking the temperatures of its employees as they report for work, and that it would send home those whose temperatures read 100 degrees or more. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer also said it would begin providing masks and gloves for workers who want them.
The move to screen the health of workers comes as the virus continues to spread, with food-store employees among the most vulnerable as their “essential” function exempts them from most local, state and federal “stay at home” orders designed to fight the pandemic. Retailers have continually stepped up defenses in recent weeks, racing to outfit stores with Plexiglas dividers at checkouts and enacting social distancing measures.
Walmart said employees who are sent home will be asked to seek medical treatment if necessary and told not to return to work until they are fever-free for at least three days.
“Many associates have already been taking their own temperatures at home, and we’re asking them to continue that practice as we start doing it on-site,” John Furner, U.S. CEO, and Kathryn McLay, Sam’s Club CEO, said in a corporate blog post. “And we’ll continue to ask associates to look out for other symptoms of the virus (coughing, feeling achy, difficulty breathing) and never come to work when they don’t feel well.”
Walmart in the message did not make clear how many of its associates have tested positive for COVID-19, although local reports indicate there have been several in the first weeks of the pandemic. But the law of large numbers that accompanies Walmart could catch up to it: It is the U.S.’s largest retailer with more than 5,000 U.S. Walmart, Neighborhood Market and Sam’s Club stores and 1.5 million U.S. associates.
Walmart has implemented an emergency COVID-19 leave policy that allows associates to stay home if they are ill or quarantined, knowing that their jobs will be protected.
Masks and Gloves
Walmart also said this week it would make gloves and masks available for workers who want them—as supplies permit.
It noted while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health officials do not recommend masks or gloves for healthy people who don’t ordinarily use them for their jobs, “we will make them available—as supplies permit—for associates who want to wear them.”
Masks will begin arriving this week. “They will not be N-95 respirators—which should be reserved for at-risk healthcare workers—they will be high-quality masks," the post said. “We encourage anyone who would like to wear a mask or gloves at work to ask their supervisor for them, while keeping in mind that they are not necessary, and that it is still possible to spread germs while wearing them."
Walmart’s peers are also seeking masks for their employees. In a message last week, The Kroger Co., which employs more than 440,000 workers, said it would allow its workers to wear masks, and was urging governments at local, state and federal levels to prioritize grocery workers, after healthcare workers, to receive such supplies.
A nationwide shortage of protective masks has sparked some apparel makers and other industries to work quickly to manufacture them.
The Washington Post this week reported that the CDC was considering revising its guidelines for mask use with the idea of encouraging the public to take it upon themselves to wear masks outdoors, but noting that such uses should not lull the public into a false sense of security nor supercede guidelines for social distancing.
Walmart noted it was encouraging a "6-20-100" guideline for workers, which means allowing for at least six feet of space between people; 20 for the numbers of seconds one should wash hands; and 100 for the temperature at which workers should stay home.
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