Major Retailers Lift Mask Policies

Walmart, Target say masks are optional for vaccinated staff and shoppers; Costco customers no longer have to wear face coverings unless local rules require them.

May 17, 2021

Walmart Employee

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Costco, Walmart, Target, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s are among U.S. retailers that will no longer require customers to wear face masks in their stores if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless state and local regulations still have mask rules in place. Walmart and Target employees who have gotten their vaccines also will have the option of skipping masks starting today for Walmart and tomorrow for Target.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued new guidance last week indicating it is safe for fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in most indoor and outdoor settings, with the exception of health-care facilities, public transportation and certain other settings were localities still require face masks. The CDC considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson.

Face mask rules have been in place starting late last spring when the CDC issued its first recommendation that people should wear face coverings on a voluntary basis to protect against COVID-19. The voluntary practice soon became mandatory by mid-summer 2020 as states, localities and businesses implemented mask policies.

Now, 13 months later and with the pandemic waning and vaccination numbers climbing in the U.S., face masks are being abandoned. Several states already have dropped their mandates—or never enacted them in the first place.

Walmart announced Friday that U.S. field associates who provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 will no longer have to wear masks on their shifts starting tomorrow, and customers who are fully vaccinated are welcome to shop without face masks.

Walmart said it would abide by city and state ordinances that may continue to require face masks. “We will be communicating with your local store, club or facility management team as regulations change so they can keep you informed,” the big box retailer said.

In addition, Walmart said vaccinated employees will receive $75 bonuses as a thank you for getting inoculated against COVID-19. The new policy and bonuses apply to all current Walmart, Sam’s Club and supply chain associates, including those who work in stores, fulfillment centers, distribution centers and offices, Walmart said. The company cited the

In a memo to employees, Walmart said associates who aren’t fully vaccinated must still wear face coverings, per CDC guidance. The company said some employees in certain jobs might have to continue to wear masks for health and sanitation purposes. “Some associates may choose to continue to wear masks, and as part of our value of respect for the individual we should all support their right to do so,” the memo said.

Walmart said it would “continue to request that non-vaccinated customers and members wear face coverings in our stores and clubs. We will update the signage in our facilities to reflect this.”

Target said today that “Given the CDC’s updated guidance last week, Target will no longer require fully vaccinated guests and team members to wear face coverings in our stores, except where it’s required by local ordinances,” the retailer said in a statement today.

Costco said Friday in locations “where the state or local jurisdiction does not have a mask mandate, we will allow members and guests who are fully vaccinated to enter Costco without a face mask or face shield” but won’t require proof of vaccination. Costco continues to recommend that all members and guests, especially those who are at higher risk, wear a mask or shield.” But employees can opt out by signing a form verifying that they’ve been vaccinated.

Starbucks has updated its policy in line with the CDC guidance to say that “facial coverings will be optional for vaccinated customers beginning Monday, May 17, unless local regulations require them by law. As we continue to ensure the health and well-being of our partners and customers, our restrooms generally remain temporarily closed to the public in stores where the café or café seating is unavailable.” Target said it will continue to recommend face coverings for “guests and team members who are not fully vaccinated and we’ll continue our increased safety and cleaning measures, including social distancing, throughout our stores.”

Trader Joe’s said customers who are fully vaccinated aren’t required to wear face coverings, except as required by local ordinances, but employees still must wear face masks, at least for the time being.

Legal experts caution that state and local laws regarding face masks still apply. The Occupational Health and Health Safety Administration has submitted for approval an emergency temporary standard on COVID-19 safety to the Office of Management and Budget. That new standard could become public at any time.