Walmart will require associates working at its headquarters campus in Bentonville, Ark., and division and regional managers who travel between stores to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4, the retailer announced July 30.
In addition, Walmart updated its face-mask policy to require that all Walmart and Sam's Club store, distribution center and fulfillment center associates wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status in areas seeing substantial or high COVID-19 transmission. Currently, the entire state of Arkansas is covered by the guidance.
"We continue to watch with deep concern the developments of the pandemic and the spread of variants, especially the Delta variant," Walmart said in a memo to staff.
The CDC's seven-day moving average of daily new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. climbed 64.1% (to 66,606) as of July 28 compared with the previous seven-day period and is 480% over the low recorded on June 19. Internal CDC data published Friday notes that persons infected with the Delta variant transmit the virus to, on average, eight or nine other people, making it more transmissible than the common cold and as transmissible as chickenpox.
"We know vaccinations are our solution to drive change," Walmart's memo to associates continued. While stating that a small number of associates "cannot get vaccinated due to medical issues or religious reasons," the retailer said it wants to see "many more of you vaccinated" and is providing two hours of paid time off for store associates who want to get vaccinated on the clock, either at a Walmart location or elsewhere. Associates also can receive up to three days of paid time off for any adverse reaction to a vaccination.
For headquarters staff, Walmart is urging that travel be limited to business-critical trips only and that employees look for ways to participate in supplier meetings and conferences virtually.
"As a country, vaccination options have been available for months, but, unfortunately, because so many people have chosen not to receive it, we've left ourselves more vulnerable to variants," the memo from Walmart Chief People Officer Donna Morris and Executive VP of Health and Wellness Dr. Cheryl Pegus stated.
On Thursday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared a new, 60-day public health emergency in the state and called a special session for Arkansas lawmakers next week to urge them to change a state law that prohibits the state or local municipalities from enacting mask mandates.
Multiple Walmart stores in Florida and one in Andalusia, Ala., have announced temporary closings in the past week to allow for COVID-19-related deep cleaning. From December to early January, more than 20 Walmart stores nationwide announced similar closures for sanitizing.
The CDC updated its mask guidance on Tuesday, July 27, to recommend that even fully vaccinated individuals wear a face mask indoors in public settings in areas of significant COVID-19 spread. Walmart is the first large grocery retailer to formally change its mask policy for associates in light of that updated guidance. Cincinnati-based Kroger as of Saturday morning had updated its mask policy to state that it now strongly encourages all individuals regardless of vaccination status in its stores and facilities; however, the grocer stopped short of changing requirements for workers.
"Our current mask guidance requires unvaccinated associates to wear masks and requests that unvaccinated customers wear masks when in our stores and facilities," Kroger states, adding that it will continue to abide by all state and local mandates and is offering a $100 incentive for associates to get vaccinated.
As of July 31, Target had not updated the mask guidance available on its website. Update: Target updated its mask rules Aug. 2, requiring all team members in areas of substantial or high transmission to wear masks effective Aug. 3.
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