As the United States has grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been looking for leadership. That’s why the profile of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been raised. That’s why residents of states other than New York or California follow along with Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom.
We’d like to welcome the latest leader to step up and be heard in these scary times: Walmart.
Wait. Walmart? Yes indeed, the ubiquitous big box chain based in Bentonville, Ark. Starting Monday, all customers at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores will be required to wear face masks. Walmart will also be creating a new position at stores, the health ambassador. These brave folks will talk to customers who show up without masks.
Walmart understands what many political leaders in our country continue to miss. The health and economic crises that we face aren’t separate. Indeed, they are inextricably intertwined. If we don’t have a handle on the virus and its spread, businesses will struggle to resume regular operation.
And if everyone across the country is doing something different, it simply leads to confusion.
The reasons for wearing a mask are simple, and put plainly in the blog post from Walmart corporate explaining the move: "While we’re certainly not the first business to require face coverings, we know this is a simple step everyone can take for their safety and the safety of others in our facilities. According to the CDC, face coverings help decrease the spread of COVID-19, and because the virus can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms and don’t know they are infected, it’s critically important for everyone to wear a face covering in public and social distance."
This is what has been missing from the national conversation. Clear requirements, delivered in a nonthreatening but persuasive way. It has been said over and over again that one size doesn’t fit all during the pandemic, but nationwide consistency makes a difference.
The coronavirus doesn’t respect state or municipal borders. But mitigation strategies that work in New York will also work in Alabama and Kansas and Idaho and California and back again. Face masks work everywhere. Social distancing works everywhere.
Likewise, Walmart is everywhere in the United States. When it stands up and makes a move like this, everyone will notice.
Let’s hope more businesses — and state and local governments — take note.