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Medical experts applaud the efforts of a growing number of chains that are requiring people to wear masks while inside their business. Getty Images
  • A growing number of businesses are putting into place policies requiring the use of face masks.
  • This movement is in response to a call from the National Retail Federation urging a nationwide mask policy.
  • Experts applaud these policies, saying that they can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • They also recommend steps such as physical distancing and handwashing to help curtail the novel coronavirus.

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In the past week, a growing number of businesses — including such names as Walmart, Best Buy, and Starbucks — have begun to require their customers to wear masks.

The movement comes in response to a call from the National Retail Federation (NRF) urging businesses to set a nationwide mask policy.

In a July 15 press release, NRF cited the health and safety of store employees and customers as the reason for mandating mask wearing.

“Wearing a face covering or mask is scientifically proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” said the organization.

A number of retailers have joined in on the movement. Among the chains are:

  • Sam’s Club
  • Costco
  • Best Buy
  • Starbucks
  • Apple Store
  • Menards
  • Walmart
  • American Eagle
  • Kroger
  • Kohl’s
  • CVS
  • Target
  • Publix
  • Lowe’s
  • Home Depot
  • ALDI
  • Whole Foods
  • Macy’s
  • Gap
  • PetSmart
  • Office Depot
  • Panera Bread
  • Noodles & Company
  • McDonald’s
  • Chipotle

To aid customers in following the policy, some retailers are providing masks to customers who don’t have them, including Best Buy, McDonald’s, American Eagle, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Gap.

In addition, Home Depot is making exceptions for small children and those with a “valid medical condition.”

Although the majority of retailers are requiring masks to be worn, Dollar Tree is simply “requesting” that they be worn.

For the most current mask policies, it’s best to consult the retailers themselves, as policies and participating stores are subject to change.

According to Jennifer A. Horney, PhD, MPH, CPH, professor and founding director, program in epidemiology, College of Health Sciences, University of Delaware, the mask mandates being issued by large retailers are “very positive news.”

Horney said COVID-19 is spread through the respiratory droplets that are expelled when people sneeze, cough, or talk.

Masks, even cloth ones or surgical masks, can provide a barrier against these aerosols, she said.

As evidence of the effectiveness of masks, Horney cited a report published in the July 17 issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In the report, two hairstylists who were positive for COVID-19 were exposed to 139 clients. All wore masks, and there was no transmission of the novel coronavirus between the stylists and the 67 clients of theirs who agreed to be tested.

Dr. Meilan King Han, MS, professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care at the University of Michigan, further added that mask wearing is important because of recent studies showing that a significant number of people with COVID-19 either do not have symptoms or have not yet developed them while still being capable of transmitting the novel coronavirus to other people.

“Accumulating data suggest the use of facial coverings can limit spread of COVID-19 infection,” she concluded.

Han said for masks to be most effective, they must cover your nose and mouth at a minimum.

In addition, they should be comfortable enough to wear as long as needed and easily washed.

Han recommended that cloth face coverings should be washed after each use.

“When taking off the mask, handle only by the ear loops or ties, fold the outer corners together and place in the washing machine,” said Han.

“Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth when removing, and wash hands immediately after removing.

Horney recommended that, in addition to wearing a mask, we should wash our hands or use hand sanitizer, both before entering a business and after leaving.

She also suggested having a shopping list or plan of what you need to accomplish. This will allow you to complete your errands as quickly and efficiently as possible.

She further advised leaving children or other family members at home if you can, since many businesses are limiting how many customers can be inside at one time.

In addition, Horney suggested keeping 6 feet between yourself and other people whenever possible.

“Finally, if you have any symptoms,” she said,” or you think you’ve been exposed to anyone with COVID-19, get tested and stay home until you know your results.”