Walmart said Friday that fully vaccinated employees would no longer have to wear masks unless state or local rules required it. The change is effective immediately, the giant retailer said in a memo to its staff.
Unvaccinated employees must continue to wear masks in its stores and offices until further notice, the memo said.
Walmart said it had made the decision after closely monitoring COVID trends across the country. It came at the end of a week in which Democratic governors from Connecticut to California began to lift statewide masking policies as coronavirus cases fueled by the omicron variant were dropping precipitously, and it is in line with similar announcements from other companies. Amazon said Thursday that vaccinated employees in warehouses in states that had dropped mask mandates could opt out of wearing masks as well.
Walmart, which has about 1.6 million employees in the United States alone, was among the first private employers at the start of the pandemic to mandate that its workers wear masks. The company eased the mask requirement for vaccinated workers and shoppers for several months in the spring before reimposing it yet again for some workers when the delta variant posed a significant threat. Then, in December as new cases driven by omicron began to surge, the company again required masks for all workers.
The company also said that a pandemic sick-pay plan that had been in place for the past two years to cover COVID-related illnesses would end March 31, unless it was required by state or local governments. The memo also said that daily health screenings before each shift would no longer be necessary for workers, except those in California, New York and Virginia.