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Big retailers are establishing the Covid-19 policies the US government won’t

Reuters/Carlos Osorio
Retail standard
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Advocates of “small government” likely had something else in mind when they suggested the US should work more like a business, but this is where the nation is at right now: Big businesses are de facto establishing the country’s Covid-19 policy when it comes to imposing face coverings.

The federal government has been reluctant to set guidelines requiring Americans to wear masks or face coverings when stepping out in public, or that businesses stay closed. Instead, the US is relying on a patchwork of state policies: Types of businesses open in one state are closed in another, and wearing a mask ranges from mandatory, to encouraged, to all but frowned-upon.

With one exception: Big retail chains. Businesses from Costco to CVS to Walmart are setting policies to be followed by all of their stores—in many cases, they go above the minimum requirement set by state guidelines.

So far, at least six of the 25 biggest retailers in the US—Dollar Tree, Verizon, Costco, H-E-B, Menards, and Apple stores—require customers to wear masks or face coverings regardless of the state policy. Walgreens, too, requires customers to wear masks, but has not requested that employees bar people without face coverings from entering the shop, in order to avoid confrontation.

A majority of top retailers, too, mandates that their employees wear face coverings and requires them. A few, however, don’t provide masks or don’t mandate them, or neither.

As the new cases continue to climb  and the White House pushes reopening, it seems likely more businesses will set their policies—and begin working like a government.

This story was updated to include Walmart’s requirement that customers wear face covers.

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