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Masking up at a store? What Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Ralphs, CVS, Walgreens and other retailers say

Shopping carts are returned outside Trader Joe's.
Shopping carts are returned to a collection area at Trader Joe’s in Sherman Oaks in July. Trader Joe’s will be dropping its mask requirement for vaccinated shoppers.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Will you have to keep masking up at your favorite retailers?

It depends.

Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Costco will no longer require fully vaccinated shoppers to don masks, making them some of first major businesses to change their face-covering policies after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines Thursday.

Trader Joe’s supermarket updated the COVID-19 guidance on its website Friday to say it continues to review federal, state and local health advisories and to adjust efforts where it makes sense.

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“In accordance with CDC guidelines, customers who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear masks while shopping in our stores,” Kenya Friend-Daniel, a Trader Joe’s spokesperson, said in an email.

The national chain headquartered in Monrovia will not be requiring proof of vaccination “as we trust our customers to follow CDC guidelines,” Friend-Daniel said.

Employees will still be required to mask up for the time being, she said.

Walmart and Costco on Friday also dropped their in-store mask requirements for fully vaccinated customers, according to respective statements.

Beginning Tuesday, Walmart employees who are fully vaccinated also will have the option of working without a mask, according to a memo sent to U.S. associates that has been made public.

The company is giving $75 to U.S. employees who get their shots “as a thank you for getting vaccinated,” the memo states.

“We’re encouraging all associates to get vaccinated and help end this pandemic,” the memo reads. “Do it for your health, your family, your friends, your community and your country — let’s help reach our national vaccination goals by the Fourth of July.”

In a momentous turn in the fight against COVID-19, federal officials are significantly easing mask guidelines as the threat of the pandemic rapidly fades.

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Costco President and Chief Executive Craig Jelinek announced the policy change in an open letter to customers, saying that the large retailer still recommends mask wearing for all visitors, “especially those who are at higher risk.”

The retailer will still require masks in healthcare settings, including its pharmacy, optical and hearing aid departments, the letter states.

Costco stores will not require proof of vaccination, “but we ask for members’ responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy,” Jelinek wrote.

The policy changes were announced one day after the CDC dramatically loosened its masking requirements for those are who fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Under the new federal guidelines, anyone who is two weeks or more past their final vaccination can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without a mask or physical distancing.

However, the changes don’t immediately alter the mask rules in California, where Walmart has 280 stores and Costco has 131.

Trader Joe’s, which has more than 130 locations in California, appears to have rolled out policy changes in at least one location in the state.

A sign at the entrance of a South Pasadena location said vaccinated customers would no longer be required to wear masks while shopping. Out of about 50 shoppers at the store Friday afternoon, two were not wearing masks.

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Not everyone perusing the aisles was happy with the policy change.

“This is irresponsible and too soon,” said Ana Mejia, 67, a Highland Park resident who stopped by for a bouquet of tulips and broccolini. She’s received both doses of the Moderna vaccine but worries about those still at risk.

“There are still people trying to get shots, people who are vulnerable and now you’re going to have people who haven’t taken a vaccination walking into the stores without masks,” Mejia said through her blue surgical mask. “There are a lot of liars.”

The two patrons who were not wearing masks declined to comment on their decision. Trader Joe’s did not respond to questions about how the policy fit with state and local rules.

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Several other national retailers, including Home Depot, announced Friday that they would be keeping their mask policies.

Kroger, which operates Ralphs and Food 4 Less stores, and CVS said in statements that they are reviewing their practices, but are requiring masks to be worn by employees and customers for the time being.

“We are currently reevaluating our position on masks given the CDC’s new guidance. Until that evaluation is complete, the existing company policies on face coverings and maintaining social distance in stores and clinics remain in effect,” Joe Goode, a CVS spokesperson, said in an email.

He added that the “safety of employees, customers and vendors will continue to guide our decision-making process.”

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Kroger is trying to incentivize vaccinations among retail employees by offering $100 to those who get them. The company also said it would ask for employee input before altering its mask rules.

“As we have throughout the pandemic, we are reviewing current safety practices, the CDC’s latest guidance and soliciting feedback from associates to guide the next phase of our policy,” Kroger said in a statement provided by spokeswoman Sheila Regehr.

Home Depot and Walgreens are also keeping their masking requirements in place, the retailers said through respective spokespeople.

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”We have decided to keep our current face covering policy in place for the time being,” Walgreens spokesman Campbell O’Connor said in an email. “The safety of our team members and customers is our top priority and will continue to guide our decision process.”

California has stricter mask rules consistent with the CDC’s previous guidance, and officials said they will remain in effect at least for now as they study the new recommendations.

The state and Los Angeles County will review the CDC’s recommendations in order to “make sensible adjustments to the orders that are currently in place,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s mask-wearing requirements at businesses — including restaurants and supermarkets — remain in effect.

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Walmart acknowledged in its memo that some city and state ordinances will still require masks, “and we will follow those requirements.”

Costco also said its policy changes will apply only in locations where the state or local jurisdiction does not have a mask mandate.

Times staff writers Hayley Smith and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.


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