Walmart and other major U.S. retailers announced plans to lift mask requirements for vaccinated customers and employees after the CDC altered its guidance on face coverings last week. File Photo by Ian Halperin/UPI. | License Photo
May 16 (UPI) -- Several major retailers in the United States announced plans to lift their mask requirements for vaccinated customers in line with altered guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC last week announced that people are no longer required to wear face coverings in public -- except on transit, in health care facilities and other crowded areas or where local mandates require them -- two weeks after they have completed their vaccine sequence.
Walmart announced Friday that vaccinated customers and employees will no longer be required to wear masks, adding that the company is "encouraging all associates to get vaccinated and help end this pandemic."
Costco and grocery chain Publix also both announced that they will no longer require maks for fully vaccinated customers and employees and Starbucks said it will lift its mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers on Monday.
Other retailers such as CVS, Walgreens and Macy's said they would review their mask policies in light of the CDC guidance.
The United States has fully vaccinated 37.1% of its population, including 47.2% of people older than 18, according to the CDC, and last week the Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer's vaccine for children ages 12 and older.
Many of the retailers who lifted their mask requirements said they would not require proof of vaccination for customers who enter without a mask and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a Friday press conference that the Biden administration is not considering federal mandates for so-called "vaccine passports" that would require proof of vaccination to enter certain establishments.
CDC Director Dr. Rachel Walensky on Sunday told CNN's State of the Union that people in areas where masks are not mandated should operate on "the honor system" adding that "people who were not inclined to wear masks were not inclined to wear masks before Thursday."
"People have to be honest with themselves," she said. "You're protected if you're vaccinated. You're not if you're not vaccinated."
In a separate interview with ABC News' This Week, Walensky said that the guidance was not "permission for widespread removal of masks."
"For those who are vaccinated, it may take some time for them to feel comfortable removing their masks, but also that these decisions have to be made at the jurisdictional level, at the community level. Some communities have been hit harder than others, have lower vaccination rates than others," she said. "We want to deliver the science at the individual level, but we also understand that these decisions have to be made at the community level."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS News' Face the Nation Sunday that he expects the CDC to introduce further individual guidance, clarifying guidelines for the workplace and other scenarios.
"I would imagine within a period of just a couple of weeks, you're going to start to see significant clarification of some of the actually understandable and reasonable questions that people are asking," he said.
Fauci added the CDC guidance came amid an "accumulation of data" demonstrating the "real-world effectiveness of the vaccine," including that they are more than 90% effective in protecting against disease, protect against variants and that vaccinated people are unlikely to transmit the virus to others.
"The accumulation of all of those scientific facts, information and evidence brought the CDC to make that decision to say now when you're vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask, not only outdoors, but you don't need to wear it indoors," he said.
The CDC guidance prompted backlash from unions representing food and healthcare workers.
The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers, expressed concern that the policy places an increased burden on workers to gauge customer compliance.
"While we all share the desire to return to a mask-free normal, today's CDC guidance is confusing and fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks," UFCW President Marc Perrone said in a statement Thursday.
National Nurses United, the nation's largest registered nurses union, called for the CDC to reverse the guidance, saying it "is not based on science" and would jeopardize the health of frontline workers and the general public, particularly people of color.
"This is a huge blow to our efforts at confronting this virus and the pandemic," said Bonnie Castillo, a registered nurse and executive director of the union.
In response to the criticism, Walensky said that the CDC's message is that essential workers who are vaccinated are protected from the virus and employers should provide the resources to ensure their workers can be vaccinated.
"We are really asking the businesses to work with their workers to make sure that they have the paid time off to get themselves vaccinated, so they can be safe," she said.