Walmart to start taking employee temperatures and distribute masks and gloves

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Walmart said Tuesday it will begin temperature checks for all employees before they start their shifts.

The world’s largest retailer is also making masks and gloves available for employees who want to wear them. The new steps come as grocery workers increasingly become worried about being at the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Retail workers are being asked to do heroic work to keep America fed,” said Dan Bartlett, Walmart executive vice president on a call with reporters Tuesday. “The strain put on retail is not normal.”

Walmart is also considering one-way aisles to promote social distancing by customers and said it’s started that in the U.K. and Canada. There are no plans to begin checking temperatures of customers, Bartlett said, adding, “that would require clear guidelines from the government.”

Grocery stores and pharmacies are required to stay open when local and state officials declare shelter-in-place orders. On Monday, some employees of an Amazon fulfillment center in New York walked out after an employee tested positive. Instacart employees have also become vocal about their safety as they fill online grocery orders.

At Walmart, the additional steps come as the retailer has shortened store hours to allow for a deeper cleaning of stores overnight, hired more people, offered coronavirus leave policy and started adding sneeze guards at checkouts. Walmart has hired 50,000 new workers since March 19 when it made its announcement.

In addition to taking temperatures, Walmart said it will ask some basic health screening questions.

It’s in the process of sending infrared thermometers to all it locations which it said could take up to three weeks to reach its 5,355 Walmart, Neighborhood Market and Sam’s Clubs in the U.S. It employs 1.4 million people.

Masks and gloves will arrive in 1-2 weeks, Walmart said. While the CDC and other health officials don’t recommend masks and gloves for healthy people who don’t already use them for their jobs, Walmart said it will make them available “as supplies permit” for employees who want to wear them.

Bartlett said the additional steps will start in states with more hot spots and distribution centers will be the first to receive thermometers.

An employee with a temperature of 100 degrees will be sent home and will be paid for reporting to work, then asked to seek medical treatment in necessary. The employee can’t return to work until they are fever-free for at least three days, Walmart said.

Walmart said many employees have already been taking their temperatures at home. It’s also asking them to look out for other symptoms of the virus such as “coughing, feeling achy, difficulty breathing and never come to work when they don’t feel well.”

Bartlett stressed that masks and gloves are voluntary and said CDC guidelines still don’t recommend them for the general public.

To keep employees in masks, Walmart needs 7 million a week. The program wasn’t put in place sooner, he said, because masks can create “a false sense of security.” Social distancing and hand washing are recommended instead, he said. Also, Walmart wanted to be sure it could access a supply of masks without putting pressure on the needs of the health care workers, he said.

A blog post announcing the new steps by Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner and CEO of Sam’s Club posted Tuesday said employees are also being asked to remember three numbers: 6, 20 and 100. Six feet of space between others. Take 20 seconds to wash hands with soap and water. A temperature of 100 degrees means stay home.


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