Masks are being required at nearly every major retailer across Wisconsin and across the nation

Some customers wear masks while shopping Monday at a Pick ’n Save store in Fond du Lac. While employees at the store have been required to wear masks, customers will be required to do so starting next week.

Retailers across Wisconsin this week will require customers in their stores to wear face coverings.

Milwaukee-based Sendik’s Food Markets on Friday said that customers will be required to wear a face covering beginning Tuesday while shopping at any of the grocer’s 17 Sendik’s and Fresh2GO stores.

Sendik’s has required employees to wear face coverings since April. The chain, like others, is taking the step to protect its customers and workers from COVID-19.

“We believe this is a proactive step to further protect the safety of our customers and our associates” said Ted Balistreri, Sendik’s co-owner, in a statement.

“Based on CDC reports, face coverings help decrease the spread of COVID-19,” Sendik’s said in a statement.

Virtually every retailer in the country is now requiring customers wear masks in order to shop in stores beginning this week.

Starting Monday, Menomonee Falls-based Kohl’s will require customers to wear face coverings at all of its more than 1,100 stores nationwide. Store employees have been required to wear masks since Kohl’s stores started reopening May 4. 

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“As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, face covering mandates have grown to apply to approximately 70% of our store base, therefore we’ve made the decision to take a consistent approach across our entire store fleet,” Kohl’s said in a statement. 

Kroger, which operates the Pick ’n Save and Metro Market stores in Wisconsin, will require face coverings beginning Wednesday. 

“As an employer, grocery provider and community partner, we have a responsibility to help keep our associates, customers and communities safe,” the company said in a statement. “According to the CDC, wearing a facial covering, combined with social distancing and frequent handwashing, has been scientifically proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“Starting July 22, we will require all customers in all locations to wear a mask when shopping in our stores, joining our associates who continue to wear masks,” according to the statement. “We are taking this extra step now because we recognize additional precautions are needed to protect our country.” 

Also on Friday, De Pere-based Festival Foods announced on Facebook that shoppers would be required to wear face coverings at all of its grocery stores beginning July 24. 

Among other retailers, Michigan-based Meijer said that starting Monday, customers would be required to wear masks to enter all of its 253 supercenters and grocery stores, including its Wisconsin locations.

Woodman’s Markets also said that its grocery stores would begin requiring customers to cover their mouth and nose to shop in any of its 18 locations beginning Monday. The Janesville-based grocer has required staff and vendors to wear masks since the beginning of April. 

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market also announced Friday that it’s requiring all customers wear a face mask or face covering when shopping at any Fresh Thyme store effective Monday. 

Home Depot on Friday also said it will require all shoppers to wear face coverings beginning Wednesday. 

Customers not wearing masks because of a medical condition are asked to speak with an associate before entering the store, the company says.

Many other stores, including Eau Claire-based Menard’s and Costco, already require face coverings for customers to enter their stores.

Walmart and Sam’s Club also will start requiring masks at stores and clubs nationwide starting July 20 Monday, the company announced Wednesday.

That doesn’t mean everyone is happy with the requirements.

The requiring of masks and facial coverings has become a hot button nationally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends them as way to prevent the spread of the virus, but some consider mask mandates as a violation of their constitutional rights.

As states have begun to reopen and ease social distancing requirements, the wearing of masks in public has incited some violent confrontations in stores. As state and cities enact differing regulations on masks, retailers have started taking the lead in mandating masks in their locations nationwide.

Home Depot, for example, is headquartered in Atlanta, which is ground zero for a national debate on mask mandates. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday sued the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for requiring citizens to wear face masks in public.

The retailer says about 85% of its stores already require customers to wear face masks due to local and state regulations. Home Depot workers already wear masks in stores, distribution centers and other locations, the company says.

Retailers say they are aware that some people are opposed to the mandates.

“We know some people have differing opinions on this topic,” the chief operating officers of Walmart and Sam’s Club said in a blog post Wednesday. “We also recognize the role we can play to help protect the health and well-being of the communities we serve by following the evolving guidance of health officials like the CDC.”

Nearly 40 states now require masks in public places with Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado adding mandates and Ohio requiring masks in a dozen counties.

Individual businesses can choose to institute further restrictions and the National Retail Federation is encouraging retailers to set nationwide mask policies to protect shoppers and employees.

A recent Harris poll about businesses mandating masks found 76% of Americans want businesses to “exact and enforce” their own mandatory policies, with 80% saying they are more likely to do business with a company if they require all customers and employees to wear a face mask during the pandemic.

Last week’s announcements of required face coverings starting rolling out a day after Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said if the American public were to embrace masking now, the pandemic could be brought to heel in less than two months.

“If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think over the next 4-6-8 weeks, I really think we can bring this under control,” he said in an interview Tuesday with the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This story was compiled based on reporting by Sarah Hauer and Joe Taschler of the Journal  Sentinel staff, Jeff Bollier of the Green Bay Press-Gazette and Kelly Tyko of USA Today.