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Walmart to require workers wear masks in stores in high-risk counties 

People wearing protective masks shop in a Walmart store on May 18, 2021 in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Walmart said Friday that it will begin requiring masks for store workers in high-risk counties in the U.S. as determined by the latest CDC rankings, effective immediately.

Shoppers are strongly encouraged to wear masks in stores, but they will not be required to, the retailer said in a memo sent to staff.

Walmart said it will be adding back signage near the entrances of its stores and warehouse clubs to remind customers about the CDC’s revised guidance. The company said it will review store mask rules on a weekly basis from here.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a fresh recommendation that calls for wearing face masks again in areas of the country where the Covid-19 virus is spreading the most rapidly. That covers about two-thirds of all counties in the United States.

The decision came roughly two months after the CDC in May said vaccinated individuals could go without masks. The delta variant, however, has driven cases back up and led the agency to reevaluate.

Walmart also said it’s doubling the incentive for staff to get the Covid vaccine, to $150. Employees who have already received the $75 incentive will receive another $75 in their paycheck dated Aug. 19, the company said Friday.

Walmart said it will soon implement a new process for verification of vaccine status for U.S. employees. It plans to share more details about this process in the future.

Walmart’s shift in policy comes just a day after Apple began requiring both vaccinated and unvaccinated customers, as well as staff members, to wear masks in many of its shops across the United States.

Businesses including Macy’s, Gap and Kroger have told CNBC they are reviewing the new CDC guidance and could issue updated rules in the coming days.

The CDC has now warned House lawmakers that the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, has a longer transmission window than the original Covid-19 strain and may make older people sicker, even if they’ve been fully vaccinated.

“We know vaccinations are our solution to drive change,” Walmart said in the memo sent to all U.S. employees. “We are urging you to get vaccinated and want to see many more of you vaccinated.”

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