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Big Chain Stores Drop Mask Rules for Vaccinated Shoppers

Walmart, Costco and other major retailers have revised face-covering policies to match CDC guidance

Man shopping at store

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En español | The nation’s largest retail chains have revised their mask policies in the wake of guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely forego face-covering in public places.

Major retailers such as Walmart, Costco, Kroger, Walgreens, CVS, Home Depot and Target are allowing fully inoculated customers to shop mask-free as long as doing so does not violate state or local face-covering mandates.

According to the CDC, people are fully vaccinated when they are two weeks past receiving their second Pfizer or Moderna dose or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The 10 largest retailers in the U.S. and most of the top 40, as ranked by the National Retail Federation (NRF) based on sales, implemented mask mandates in the spring and summer of 2020. Here’s a list of biggest retail companies still requiring some patrons or employees to wear face coverings. In most cases the store numbers below are from the NRF, as of 2019.

(Editor’s note: This list is limited to retailers in the NRF’s top 40. If you have questions about mask policies at a company not listed here, check its website or contact its corporate office).


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Walmart

NRF rank: 1

U.S. stores: 5,355 (including Sam's Club)

The nation’s biggest retailer ended mask requirements for fully vaccinated customers and employees at Walmart and Sam's Club stores in May. “We will continue to request that non-vaccinated customers and members wear face coverings in our stores and clubs,” the company said. Walmart triggered a wave of retailers implementing mask rules when it did so in July 2020.

Amazon

NRF rank: 2

U.S. stores: 564

Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market, the e-commerce giant’s biggest brick-and-mortar offshoot, ended its mask mandate for fully vaccinated customers on May 19. Inoculated store employees can also go mask-free. “Unvaccinated customers are asked to continue to wear masks,” the grocery chain states on its COVID-19 response page.

Kroger

NRF rank: 3

U.S. stores: 3,003

The country’s largest supermarket company, which includes Kroger, Harris Teeter, Fred Meyer and other chains, lifted its mask mandate for fully vaccinated customers on May 20. Face coverings are still required for employees who are not inoculated or who work in in-store pharmacies and clinics. “We request that non-vaccinated customers continue to wear a mask,” the company said.

Costco

NRF rank: 4

U.S. stores: 542

"Costco locations will follow the face mask regulations of the applicable state and local jurisdictions," the company says on its coronavirus updates page. The members-only warehouse club dropped its face-covering requirement in May, a year after it became the first major national retailer to institute a mask rule.

Walgreens

NRF rank: 5

U.S. stores: 9,168

The nation's biggest drugstore chain dropped its mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers May 19. “Customers who are not fully vaccinated are asked to continue wearing face coverings, and our team members will continue to wear them while working,” according to a company statement.

Home Depot

NRF rank: 6

U.S. stores: 1,973

Fully vaccinated shoppers and staff are not required to wear facial coverings. “It is strongly recommended that unvaccinated customers and associates wear a mask or face covering for everyone's safety," the home-improvement giant said in a June 30 update on its COVID-19 response.

CVS

NRF rank: 7

U.S. stores: 9,909

The drugstore chain dropped mask rules for fully vaccinated patrons in May. “Face coverings are required for employees and customers who are not fully vaccinated," the company says on its COVID-19 resource page.

Target

NRF rank: 8

U.S. stores: 1,868

“Given the CDC’s updated guidance, Target no longer requires fully vaccinated guests and team members to wear face coverings in our stores, except where it’s required by local ordinances,” the company says on its coronavirus response page. “Face coverings continue to be strongly recommended for guests and team members who are not fully vaccinated.”

Lowe's

NRF rank: 9

U.S. stores: 1,727

In an update to its page on COVID-19 protective measures, the home improvement chain announced May 19 that it has revised its mask policy to “align with the CDC’s new guidance unless required differently by state or local requirements.”

Albertsons

NRF rank: 10

U.S. stores: 2,258

The parent company of Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco and other grocery chains implemented a mask rule across all its properties in July 2020. When Texas lifted its state mask mandate in March, the company said the requirement would stay in place in its stores there, stating that it would “continue to look to the CDC's recommendations to determine our safety practices."

Apple Store

NRF rank: 11

U.S. stores: 271

As recently as late May the tech retailer still required face-covering, but Apple's FAQs on store policies now state that masks "may be required to enter" its stores.

McDonald's

NRF rank: 13

U.S. stores: 13,846

The fast-food chain amended its mask policy May 21. The company told USA Today that masks are now optional for fully vaccinated customers but still required for restaurant crews. 

Best Buy

NRF rank: 14

U.S. stores: 995

The big-box electronics chain eliminated face-covering requirements for fully vaccinated customers and employees on May 18 but said it will continue to make masks available to any shopper or staffer who wants one.

Publix

NRF rank: 15

U.S. stores: 1,479

The supermarket chain ended mask requirements for fully vaccinated shoppers and store employees on May 15. "Individuals who are not fully vaccinated are required to use face coverings over their noses and mouths while inside any Publix store," the company says in its coronavirus FAQs.

TJX Companies

NRF rank: 16

U.S. stores: 3,247

TJX is the parent of T.J.Maxx and Marshalls, as well as outdoor store Sierra and home furnishings chain HomeGoods. Identical customer information pages on each brand's website state that face coverings "are now optional for fully vaccinated customers" in U.S. stores. Masks remain mandatory for store employees, and unvaccinated shoppers are asked to wear them "for the health and well-being of others."

Aldi

NRF rank: 17

U.S. stores: 2,586

The discount supermarket chain ended its mask mandate for fully vaccinated customers and employees in May. “Face coverings are required for unvaccinated customers and employees,” the company states on an updated web page on store safety measures.

Dollar General

NRF rank: 18

U.S. stores: 16,368

The discount chain eased its policy May 18, announcing on its COVID-19 response page that it no longer requires fully vaccinated customers, employees and vendors to wear masks. "All others are encouraged to continue wearing face coverings," the company said.

H-E-B

NRF rank: 19

U.S. stores: 333

The Texas grocery chain made masking optional for fully vaccinated customers and workers June 9. The company kept a full face-covering requirement in place for three months after its home state's mask mandate ended in March. 

Macy's

NRF rank: 20

U.S. stores: 780

Masks are “recommended but not required for vaccinated customers,” according to the department store's page on COVID-19 safety procedures. Store employees are provided with company-issued cloth masks and "may be required to wear them at all times, or may do so by choice," depending on state and local rules.

Dollar Tree

NRF rank: 21

U.S. stores: 15,059

The discount retailer, which also operates the Family Dollar chain, does not explicitly state a mask policy on its coronavirus response page but says it is "following the latest guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," apparently ending a face-covering mandate for shoppers that had been in place since August 2020.

Verizon

NRF rank: 22

U.S. stores: 1,600-plus

The company's web page on store operations states that masks "may be required" at Verizon locations and that its outlets follow "CDC guidelines and legal requirements." Verizon had been requiring all customers and staff to mask up since last summer.

Kohl's

NRF rank: 24

U.S. stores: 1,171

The department store revised its policy May 17, announcing that “fully vaccinated customers are welcome to shop with or without a mask. We will continue to strongly recommend that non-vaccinated customers and associates wear masks in our stores.”

Starbucks

NRF rank: 26

U.S. stores: 15,041

The coffee giant made face-covering optional for fully vaccinated customers in mid-May. As of July 5, inoculated store staffers "who disclose their vaccination status" can go mask-free while working, the company says on its updated COVID-19 response page.


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Meijer

NRF rank: 28

U.S. stores: 247

The Midwestern superstore chain dropped its mask requirement for fully vaccinated shoppers on May 17. "We ask all customers who are not fully vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine to wear a mask while they shop at our stores and maintain social distancing," the company says on its COVID-19 information page.

Wakefern (ShopRite)

NRF rank: 29

U.S. stores: 352

The corporate parent of northeastern supermarkets ShopRite, Price Rite and the Fresh Grocer says in its FAQs on store safety that it has has lifted mask mandates for fully vaccinated customers and staff in accordance with policies in the states where it operates. Masks are requested for unvaccinated shoppers and required for unvaccinated store employees.

Ross

NRF rank: 30

U.S. stores: 1,805

The off-price department store started “requiring all customers and associates to wear a face covering” in August 2020 and continues to do so, according to its store safety guidelines.

AT&T

NRF rank: 31

U.S. stores: 2,200

"Masks are required to be worn by employees, customers and visitors in our stores and will be provided to customers who need them,” the telecommunications company says in the consumers section of its COVID-19 response page.

Rite Aid

NRF rank: 32

U.S. stores: 2,461

The pharmacy chain updated its face-covering policy July 4 to allow fully vaccinated shoppers and staffers to unmask in stores. "As a healthcare provider, we continue to ask unvaccinated individuals, particularly those receiving any direct care from our pharmacists, to continue to wear a face covering while in our stores," the company says on its page on COVID-19 protocols.

Nordstrom

NRF rank: 33

U.S. stores: 368

The department store chain is “requiring face masks where mandated and for those who aren't vaccinated," the company says on its COVID-19 response page

Gap

NRF rank: 34

U.S. stores: 2,337

The operator of Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and other apparel chains dropped mask mandates for fully vaccinated customers May 21 and for inoculated employees June 18. "We recommend that customers who are not fully vaccinated wear masks in our stores," and face covering is still required for unvaccinated workers, the company said in a June 18 policy update.

BJ's Wholesale

NRF rank: 35

U.S. stores: 218

The membership warehouse club lifted storewide mask requirements for fully vaccinated customers and store employees in mid-May, according to the company’s coronavirus FAQs. Face covering is still mandated for unvaccinated people and for all shoppers and staff in BJ’s optical departments.

Alimentation Couche-Tard (Circle K)

NRF rank: 36

U.S. stores: 6,977

Couche-Tard, a Canadian convenience store company, owns the U.S.-based Circle K chain, which amended its mask policy May 17 to allow vaccinated shoppers and employees to "remove their masks at our locations." The company said it "will not require proof of vaccination, and trust that team members and customers will do the right thing to protect their own health and those of their community."

Menards

NRF rank: 37

U.S. stores: 312

“Vaccinated persons do not need to wear a mask (but we would deeply appreciate it if you would),” the Midwestern home improvement chain states in an update to its COVID-19 policy page. “Not-vaccinated persons do need to wear a mask (and we deeply appreciate you doing so).”

PetSmart

NRF rank: 39

U.S. stores: 1,522

"In accordance with CDC guidance, face coverings are no longer required for fully vaccinated individuals," except as required by state or local regulations, the pet-supply chain said in a May 26 update on its COVID-19 response. "We ask those who are not fully vaccinated to continue wearing face coverings in our locations."

Bed Bath & Beyond

NRF rank: 40

U.S. stores: 1,423

The home goods chain's store safety plan maintains a mask mandate for shoppers and staff members but exempts fully vaccinated customers "in U.S. locations where permitted by local order or law.

Andy Markowitz is a contributing writer and editor for AARP, covering Social Security and fraud. He is a former editor of The Prague Post and Baltimore City Paper.

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