April 18, 2020 – On Friday, the same day that Gov Jared Polis issued a state-wide order, mandating that grocery store, health care and other critical workers wear face masks in Colorado, Walmart officials released their own statement, requiring that employees at all stores, organizations and corporate offices related to Walmart, including Sam’s Club, will now be required to wear masks or other face coverings at work to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Locally, we reported that at least one worker at Pueblo’s South Side Walmart off Northern and Highway 50 had contracted the highly contagious virus and family confirmed that a man in his 50s and his wife were in the hospital “fighting for their lives.” That news spread quickly throughout our community and managers at that store met with their employees shortly after, most of whom have been seen wearing face masks ever since.
However Puebloans have reported that mask wearing hasn’t been the case at other Walmarts in the area although rumors were spreading that several other Walmart employees had contracted COVID-19, possibly at the Pueblo West store and the Neighborhood on the South Side. Last weekend the North Side Walmart was seen packed with shoppers, and one employee said he believed locals were heading to that location in part because of rumors and news spreading through social media that several other employees had contracted the virus elsewhere.
We obtained a copy of a letter sent out by top executives of Walmart and Sam’s Club, addressed to all employees, dated April 17, 2020, and are providing its exact words here:
“Throughout this pandemic, your health and well-being has been our top priority. It was just over a month ago that we announced our COVID-19 emergency leave policy, and since then, we have taken more steps to protect you, our customers and our members with the guidance of our state and local public health officials, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as our company’s own Chief Medical Officer.
“Today, we are sharing another step: We will begin requiring that associates wear masks or other face coverings at work. This includes our stores, clubs, distribution and fulfillment centers, as well as in our corporate offices. We’ll also be encouraging customers and members to wear face coverings when they shop with us.
“We have evolved our policy on face coverings from optional to mandatory as public health guidance has shifted. The CDC now recommends wearing face coverings in public settings, including grocery stores, to help curb the spread of the virus.
“Although most state and local governments do not mandate the use of face coverings in public settings, the CDC has reported that recent studies show a significant portion of individuals with the virus lack symptoms and can transmit the virus. With this knowledge, we believe it is simply in everyone’s best interest to use masks or face coverings to curb the spread of this disease.
“Starting Monday, you’ll be required to wear a face covering at work. You can provide your own as long as it meets certain guidelines, or we will provide you with one as you pass your associate health screen and temperature check. We’re also aware there may need to be exceptions to this policy based on local laws and individual health needs.
“We hope this step will promote safety and consistency across all of our facilities and be of comfort to our customers and members. However, it’s important to remember that face coverings are simply an additional health precaution. They do not guarantee against the spread of this virus, and they do not replace the most important steps you can take to keep yourself and others safe: 6-20-100. Whether at work or elsewhere, practice six feet of social distancing whenever possible. Regularly wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds. And if you have a temperature of 100 degrees or higher, stay home.
“We’re also announcing today that we are extending our emergency leave policy through the end of May to ensure you have the support you need when you have to miss work.
“Thank you for your commitment to helping ensure Walmart and Sam’s Club are safe places to work and shop. Together, we are providing a critical service for communities across the country. During this extraordinary time, our customers and members need us more than ever. Thank you for being there for them and each other.
“We’ll be encouraging customers and members to wear face coverings when they shop with us,” Walmart announced on their website.”
In a prior update from April 9, 2020, Walmart officials reported, and in their exact words, that they were “making face masks available for all associates. We are making face masks mandatory in many communities where we are seeing elevated cases, as we recently did in the New Orleans area. We are monitoring this situation closely and will continue to make adjustments to help ensure the health and well-being of our associates and customers.”
On March 31, 2020, officials wrote, “As our company and country continue to deal with the spread of COVID-19, we remain focused on the health and safety of our associates. We continue to follow and communicate the CDC’s recommended guidance on behaviors like washing hands, social distancing and the cleaning of surfaces.
“And we have made significant operational changes in our stores, clubs, DCs and FCs this month – such as closing overnight for cleaning, starting to install sneeze guards at checkout and pharmacies, using wipes and sprayers for carts, putting in signing for social distancing and implementing a COVID-19 emergency leave policy.
“Today we’re sharing additional steps we’re taking to promote a safe and healthy workplace.Temperature ChecksAs the COVID-19 situation has evolved, we’ve decided to begin taking the temperatures of our associates as they report to work in stores, clubs and facilities, as well as asking them some basic health screening questions. We are in the process of sending infrared thermometers to all locations, which could take up to three weeks.
“Any associate with a temperature of 100.0 degrees will be paid for reporting to work and asked to return home and seek medical treatment if necessary. The associate will not be able to return to work until they are fever-free for at least three days.
“Many associates have already been taking their own temperatures at home, and we’re asking them to continue that practice as we start doing it on-site. And we’ll continue to ask associates to look out for other symptoms of the virus (coughing, feeling achy, difficulty breathing) and never come to work when they don’t feel well.
“Our COVID-19 emergency leave policy allows associates to stay home if they have any COVID-19 related symptoms, concerns, illness or are quarantined – knowing that their jobs will be protected.
“While the CDC and other health officials do not recommend masks or gloves for healthy people who don’t ordinarily use them for their jobs, we will make them available — as supplies permit — for associates who want to wear them.The masks will arrive in 1-2 weeks. They will be high-quality masks, but not N95 respirators – which should be reserved for at-risk healthcare workers.We encourage anyone who would like to wear a mask or gloves at work to ask their supervisor for them, while keeping in mind that it is still possible to spread germs while wearing them.”
Story compiled by Jenny Paulson / Independent Journalist