NEW YORK - Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer and private employer, is reversing its mask policy and will require all its workers including vaccinated ones in areas with high infection rates to wear masks.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company says it is also encouraging customers to wear masks in those stores in areas with high infection rates and will be adding back signs at the entrances, according to a memo supplied by Walmart that was sent to its employees on Friday. It will also bring back so-called health ambassadors who will be positioned at the entrances and hand out masks.
The company is also doubling the incentive for workers in stores, clubs, transportation, distribution center and fulfillment centers to get the vaccine for $150. Those who already received the $75 incentive will receive another $75 in their paycheck dated Aug 19.
The moves come three days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling infection surges.
"We continue to watch with deep concern the developments of the pandemic and the spread of variants, especially the delta variant," wrote Donna Morris, Walmart's chief people officer, in the memo circulated to employees. "We know vaccinations are our solution to drive change. We are urging you to get vaccinated and want to see many more of you vaccinated."
Scott Pope, a Walmart spokesman, declined to comment on the percentage of Walmart workers who are vaccinated but told The Associated Press that the retailer has seen a "positive response" to the first incentive and is anticipating the new incentive will drive a similar response from workers.
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Walmart Inc. said it is also implementing a new process for verification of vaccine status for U.S. workers. It says it will share those details in the future.
Walmart's shifting policy reflects the growing worry about the rising infection rates.
A few days after CDC eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people back in May, Walmart, along with a slew of other retailers, said it wouldn't require vaccinated shoppers to wear a mask in U.S. stores, unless state or local laws said otherwise. Walmart also said that vaccinated workers could go maskless.
At that time, Walmart said that customers wouldn't be asked but rather held to an "honor system" regarding their vaccination status. Walmart workers who didn't wear masks also had to confirm they were vaccinated by filling out a daily questionnaire, though it was not requiring proof.