Mask requirement returns for Walmart, Publix employees

Masks are back at Publix and Walmart – at least for those who work there. The changes were made as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge across the U.S. and after the CDC 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.

Starting Monday, all Publix employees are required to wear them, even if they’re not fully vaccinated. Publix is urging shoppers to wear them as well, but they’re not required to do so.

The Lakeland-based grocery chain also wants shoppers to practice social distancing.

The supermarket chain says it is following the recommendations from the CDC, which recently changed its guidelines and now advises people in areas of substantial- or high-transmission risk to wear face coverings over their noses and mouths when in public, indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.

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Those same policies are in effect at Walmart and Sam’s Club locations in areas with high infection rates

"Health ambassadors" will be handing out free masks to customers and positioned at entrances. Just like Publix, shoppers are encouraged to wear them, but are not required.

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Walmart is requiring all managers and corporate staff to get vaccinated by October.

The company is 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.

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.