Major U.S. retailers Walmart, Kroger will require customers to wear masks

(Reuters) - Walmart Inc, Kroger Co and Kohls Corp will require shoppers to wear face coverings starting next week, the retailers said on Wednesday, imposing a widely-accepted protective measure as coronavirus cases jump across the United States.

Using face masks is the top recommendation from health experts and government officials looking to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in 136,000 deaths across the country.

Walmart said about 65% of its over 5,000 U.S. stores, including its wholesale Sam’s Club outlets, were in areas where there was already some form of government mandate on face coverings. Its new policy will now apply to all stores from Monday.

Kroger will require the use of face masks in all its locations from July 22, while department store chain Kohls, whose majority store base already insists on face coverings, will make it a requirement across stores starting July 20.

Best Buy Co Inc and Starbucks Corp have already imposed the use of face masks at their U.S. outlets.

Trade group National Retail Federation (NRF) on Wednesday pushed for retailers to adopt a nationwide policy that requires customers to wear masks.

While many retailers have recommended masks for months, they were hesitant to make it a requirement, for fear of antagonizing shoppers, with numerous videos posted online on confrontations between customers and employees.

“Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right. If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk,” the NRF said.

Walmart said employees stationed at the entrance of its own and Sam’s Club stores will remind customers of its new policy.

Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Aditya Soni