CDC Updates Face Mask Guidance

Cloth masks are a voluntary public health measure; c-stores work to procure them for employees. 

April 07, 2020

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on April 3 issued an updated recommendation regarding the use of face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The agency now says Americans should use simple cloth face coverings as a voluntary public health measure in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies, etc.  

“We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”), and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms,” notes the CDC’s website. “This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.”

The agency emphasizes the importance of maintaining six-feet social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. Additionally, the use of simple cloth face coverings can help people who may have the virus and not know it from transmitting it to others. CDC notes that the cloth face coverings are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, which are reserved for health-care workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

Here are two resources for homemade cloth face masks:

  • A YouTube video on how to make a mask from household items like t-shirts and bandanas, and
  • CDC guidance on how to make, wear and clean homemade face masks.
For workers on farms, and in food production, processing, and retail settings who do not typically wear masks as part of their jobs, the CDC suggests that they consider the following if they choose to use a cloth face covering:

NACS communications with retail members suggest that there are many companies that already had  flexible policies on face mask usage prior to the April 3 CDC announcement, and some companies are working to secure masks so long as their inventory requests do not interfere with health-care and other medical workers and first responders obtaining necessary equipment.

Wawa, which is preparing to make masks available for store associates as supplies permit, notes on its website that it has reached out to a number of hospital partners, which have confirmed that the masks Wawa is purchasing do not impact their needs or inventory at this time. Wawa is not procuring the N95 respirator masks that hospitals need, and until masks are delivered to Wawa stores, associates may wear personal masks in the interim.

Giant Eagle said yesterday it is now providing disposable face masks and gloves to its 34,000 store and distribution center workers. “The safety of our Team Members and guests is our #1 priority,” Giant Eagle said in a tweet.

As part of Walgreens’ broader safety measures, the company will be providing face covers to pharmacy staff and other store team members, as well as distribution centers’ staff as another preventive measure to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. Walgreens notes on its website that although the CDC has not updated its guidance for retail pharmacies and face covers, the company is providing them to team members based on ongoing COVID-19 disease prevalence and progression and feedback from health officials.

The Kroger Family of Companies announced that in addition to limiting the number of customers to 50% of the building code’s capacity to allow for proper physical distancing in every store, the retailer is encouraging associates to wear protective masks and gloves. Kroger has ordered masks for associates nationwide, with supply starting to arrive in select regions, with the anticipation of all locations having supply by the end of this week.

Walmart stated on March 31 that is was making face masks and gloves available for store associates who wanted to wear them, as supplies permit. The masks are “high-quality masks but not N95 respirators—which should be reserved for at-risk health-care workers. 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 it is still possible to spread germs while wearing them.”

The Food & Beverage Issue Alliance has updated its guidance on the proper use of face masks in retail food environments, noting that the best way to prevent exposure to COVID-19 is through a combination of practices that include hand hygiene, physical (social) distancing and the use of a face covering when appropriate.