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Target joins Starbucks, others in not requiring mask for fully vaccinated customers unless required


A person wearing a protective mask enters a Starbucks coffee shop in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Targetand Starbucks joined a growing list of retailers and restaurants that will ease mask requirements Monday for fully vaccinated customers unless facial coverings are required by local or state law.

Companies began changing their policies for wearing masks inside stores and cafes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that fully vaccinated people don’t have to cover their faces indoors anymore.

Walmart, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Publix were among the first to allow mask-free shopping. But, Home Depot, Gap and Ulta Beauty are among the retailers that said they would continue to monitor developments, but maintain their pandemic precautions.

In a statement, Target said employees will not have to wear masks if they are fully vaccinated, too. It said it will continue other safety measures, such as extra cleaning and social distancing in its stores.

In its new guidance on Thursday, the CDC said fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask or stay 6 feet apart from others in most cases, whether indoors or outdoors. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they receive the second dose of the PfizerBioNTech or Moderna vaccines or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson.

The sudden change by the federal agency prompted confusion and some criticism. Over the weekend, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci made rounds on news programs to explain and defend the policy change.

Some feel the new guidance will encourage more people to get inoculated, but others are concerned that the policy relies too heavily on people being honest about their vaccination status. The possibility that unvaccinated people may go maskless is a concern for those who are not yet vaccinated or have children under 12 years of age who cannot yet receive the vaccine.

As of Saturday, roughly 47% of the U.S. population have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the CDC. About 37% are fully vaccinated, according to the agency.

Walmart executives said in the memo that the retailer “will continue to request that non-vaccinated customers and members wear face coverings in our stores and clubs.” They said stores will have updated signs that reflect that new policy. They did not say if, or how, Walmart will verify if customers are vaccinated or not.

For employees who want to work without wearing a mask at a store, distribution center or other facility, Walmart said it will verify their status by asking them if they have or have not gotten vaccinated. It will rely on the person’s “yes” or “no” answer during a daily health assessment.

“Integrity is one of our core values, and we trust that associates will respect that principle when answering,” they said in the memo.

However, to get a vaccine-related bonus, Walmart said employees will have to show their original, completed vaccine cards to a store leader or human resources manager. Starting next Tuesday, each person is eligible to receive $75 “as a thank you for getting vaccinated.” All U.S. employees below the level of store manager are eligible.

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The company said it is “reviewing whether masks may still be required for certain job codes for health and sanitation purposes and will share additional guidance soon.” It said employees are welcome to continue wearing masks, if they choose.

Walmart’s policy change is a departure from other major retailers, including Target, Gap and Ulta Beauty, that said they will keep pandemic protocols. Trader Joe’s, though, said customers could shop without wearing a mask, if they are fully vaccinated.

The update to Starbucks’ mask policy does not appear to impact baristas’ own mask wearing. Since February, the coffee chain has required its restaurant workers at company-operated locations in the United States and Canada to wear multi-ply facial coverings, or double mask. Starbucks has required facial coverings inside its cafes for customers since July 15.

Shares of Starbucks have risen nearly 4% so far this year, giving the company a market value of $131 billion. The business has been battered by the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, but U.S. same-store sales returned to pre-pandemic levels during its fiscal second quarter.

Target shares are up nearly 20% since the start of the year. It has a market value of $105 billion.

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