For weeks, workers have been begging to wear masks when showing up for work at retailers like Walmart and Target, as well as at fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Dunkin’.
Many companies have resisted providing masks or allowing employees to wear masks on the job, with some citing the CDC’s recommendations. This week, some of the biggest employers in the country began to change their stances.
On Tuesday, Walmart said it plans to begin offering masks and gloves to its 1.5 million US employees. The company will need about seven million masks per week for all its employees to have them daily, Dan Bartlett, executive vice president of corporate affairs for Walmart, said on a call with reporters.
“If an associate feels more comfortable wearing masks, we want to give them that opportunity to do so,” Bartlett said.
On Thursday, Target announced that it would begin supplying its 350,000 employees in stores and distribution centers with face masks and gloves. The company said it would strongly encourage employees to wear masks while working.
Some workers have been asking their employers to provide them with masks since early March, Business Insider’s Hayley Peterson and Shoshy Ciment reported. Some retailers — including Office Depot — have gone as far as banning employees from wearing masks to work.
McDonald’s is now working to secure masks after discouraging employees from wearing them on the job
Fast-food workers have also been protesting employers’ policies around masks and gloves, including workers who walked out of McDonald’s in Tampa, Florida, this week.
Until recently, McDonald’s has discouraged workers from wearing masks or gloves on the job unless they were instructed to do so by a doctor, according to leaked documents obtained by Business Insider.
An anonymous 20-year-old McDonald’s employee wrote an op-ed for Business Insider about her anger at the chain’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have a compromised immune system and have been told that I’m not allowed to wear any kind of mask at work because it might ‘put the customers off,'” she wrote. “That all I can do if someone sneezes on their money before handing it to me is wash my hands 2 to 3 minutes later and hope they didn’t have the coronavirus.”
On Thursday, McDonald’s vice president of US communications, David Tovar, told Business Insider that the company is working to secure masks for some of the more than 900,000 workers at the fast-food chain. Once there is supply, Tovar said it will be provided to locations in hot spots such as New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco and become available to other locations as needed.
Tovar said that current CDC guidelines say that masks “are not preventative in terms of a COVID-19. But we also know that there is a comfort that it provides … to employees and to customers. So we want to try and accommodate them if possible.”
The week America learned to love masks
For weeks, the CDC and other health organizations have been telling Americans that masks are not effective and discouraging people from wearing them. The US surgeon general publicly urged people to stop buying masks, and the CDC said the agency did not “recommend the use of face masks for the general public.”
Over the last week, there has been a significant shift in that narrative. The CDC and the White House are now considering encouraging Americans to wear cloth masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to multiple reports.
Still, as of Friday morning, the CDC does not currently advise that people wear masks unless they are healthcare workers or individuals with symptoms of COVID-19.
Business Insider’s Hilary Brueck reports that questions and confusion around face masks have become heated as the virus has spread throughout the US.
“The truth is that while masks are by no means a perfect tool for preventing the spread of an illness, in a world without a vaccine or any clinically proven treatment for COVID-19, they may be one more ounce of prevention that can help slow the spread across a community, especially when people who don’t yet know they’re infected wear them to protect others,” Brueck reports.
For weeks, workers have been begging for that one more ounce of prevention in the form of face masks. Now, as industry giants change up their policies, it looks like some of these essential employees are going to receive them.