Walmart’s newly-implemented mask requirement policy has stirred outrage, especially among rural Iowans, even as the state’s coronavirus cases creep back up to the peaks it hit in May.
America’s largest retailer on Monday began enforcing a mandate which requires all customers to wear face coverings at all their locations and Sam’s Club stores as COVID cases climb without national or statewide mask policies. The CDC has encouraged Americans to wear masks while out in public, pointing to studies that show them greatly reducing the spread of the virus.
But as the country’s polarized politics have surrounded the pandemic, many conservative Iowans are unhappy. A staple for many in rural parts of the state, Walmart is facing criticism from a number of residents—especially over social media—who have said the policy may deter them from shopping at their 60 Iowa locations.
“I am very frustrated with the fact that we are being forced to wear a mask,” said Dustin Ter Horst from Ireton, Iowa—a town of about 600 in Sioux County. “I look at it like saying that anyone that wears a mask is not allowed at my place of business. That would be considered discrimination, but somehow when it is flipped around and we have to wear them or are not allowed in the door, it changes how people feel.”
According to a blog post from the retailer, the face coverings will be enforced by stationed “health ambassadors” near the entrance to remind shoppers of the requirement—Walmart now joins Target, Dollar Tree and a number of other businesses implementing mask policies.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, along with President Donald Trump and many of the state’s counties have said facial covering requirements are up to the discretion of individuals or businesses. One of Iowa’s major grocers, Hy-Vee, currently does not require customers to wear masks despite calls from groups in the state including an organization of educators.
Walmart announced the news on Wednesday to allow for stores to adjust to the requirement. Social media pages for some rural Iowa residents promptly began to implode with the news.
“When the Walmart thing came out, you should have seen social media,” said Julie Goepfert, the Webster County Democrats chair. “You have to almost force me to go to that store right now. There are so many people who do not wear masks there.”
Nikki Shada, a daycare owner from Cedar Rapids said she doesn’t mind if others wear masks, she is just opposed to the required face coverings.
“I feel that if you want to wear a mask, you can. But you shouldn’t be required to, nor should you be shamed for not wearing one,” she said.
Shada said she will avoid shopping at Walmart in-person so she doesn’t have to adhere to the new requirement.
“Since all the stores around me are [requiring masks], I feel like I don’t have a choice if I need to go to the store. But I had Walmart deliver my groceries today and I’m going to try to stay that route if I can,” Shada said.
Ter Horst, who owns an agricultural machinery repair business, said he too will avoid shopping at Walmart or Sam’s Club because of the mask policies—he also will not eat at restaurants that require masks.
“It will certainly deter me from shopping there any more than getting the items I cannot buy at the local grocery store,” he said. “I have the same feeling regarding eating out at a restaurant, if the restaurant allows to seat you inside and eat as usual, I will eat there. Places that are still carry-out or drive-through only won’t get my business. We are allowed these freedoms and some places are restricting them. Really frustrates me.”
Emily Kelzer from Sheldon said she doesn’t see the necessity in wearing facial coverings as COVID cases continue to rise.
“I think it is too late in the game for it. When people are continuing to wear the mask incorrectly anyhow, it doesn’t make a bit of difference,” she said. “I will not shop at any store that would enforce the face mask.”
by Isabella Murray
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