Like it or not, the next time you go shopping you're probably going to have to wear a mask. Most states require shoppers and employees to wear face coverings inside stores, and more states are requiring face masks to be worn anywhere outside in public when social distancing is not possible.
What's more, even in states that don't specifically mandate masks, major retailers are increasingly instituting "no mask, no service" policies. This week, Walmart, Kohl's, Home Depot, Lowe's, CVS, Publix, Harris-Teeter, Starbucks, and Winn-Dixie joined the already substantial ranks of national retailers requiring face masks in all U.S. locations. (See a full list of stores requiring masks below.)
According to a recent Gallup poll, 86% of Americans say they'd "worn a mask in public in the past seven days," which is quite a jump from "the 51% of respondents who said they were wearing a mask in early April." But you'll notice that 86% percent is not 100%, which is where we need to be as a country.
The science is clear and unanimous: Outside of staying home and steering clear of other people entirely, wearing a mask is the safest way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. (Just ask Bill Nye.) And while polls are now showing that a majority of Americans get it, there are still people who, for reasons ranging from misinformation to political polarization to plain old macho pride, refuse to mask up.
A few stores (including Costco) have been requiring face masks nationwide for months. Now, in response to this summer's spike in COVID-19 infection, many other retailers and chain restaurants are requiring all customers to wear masks while shopping inside as well. While Costco implemented this rule in early May, the majority of stores are just now adopting this policy, with Walmart officially requiring all customers to wear a mask starting this week.
Some retailers, such as Apple and Sam's Club, will provide a complimentary face mask to any customer who needs one. But at this point, there's really no good reason not to have a couple of masks at home handy for when you need to go shopping or just head out in public.
What stores are (and are not) requiring masks nationwide? For now it's probably best to assume that every store requires customers to wear face masks. But if you're wondering about specific retailer policies, you should check out the store's website or social media pages, or you can take a look at our partial list (focused on national retailers) here.
Stores Requiring Masks: Updated July 2020
Here's a partial list of national retailers and restaurant chains that require all customers and employees to wear masks, as of July 2020. Remember: In many states, masks are required inside all stores, and sometimes in all public spaces where social distancing is not possible.
• American Eagle
• Bed, Bath & Beyond
• Best Buy
• BJ's Wholesale
• Gap (including Old Navy, Athleta, and Banana Republic)
• Home Depot
• Kroger (includes multiple supermarket brands)
• McDonald's (August 1)
• Panera Bread
• Sam's Club
• Target (effective August 1)
• Trader Joe's
• Whole Foods
What Kind of Masks Are Required in Stores?
In most cases, store policies say that some kind of face covering is required of shoppers, but there are no specifics spelled out about what kind of mask or covering qualifies — or what possibly doesn't qualify. Walmart, for example, announced the following, without elaborating: "To help bring consistency across stores and clubs, we will require all shoppers to wear a face covering starting Monday, July 20."
Yet while you can go shopping with almost any type of mask or face covering, some products work much better than others. To best avoid spreading COVID-19 when you sneeze, cough, talk or breathe, it's important to use a mask that covers both your mouth and your nose. As noted by FiveThirtyEight, "it’s less about the type of fabric — cotton, linen, silk — and more about the quality of fabric," as "higher quality fabrics have a tighter weave and thicker thread that do a better job of blocking droplets from passing through."
A recent study from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that "the best-performing design was constructed of two layers of high-quality, heavyweight 'quilter’s cotton’ with a thread count of 180 or more, and those with especially tight weave and thicker thread such as batiks. A double-layer mask with a simple cotton outer layer and an inner layer of flannel also performed well."
What About Bandanas, Neck Gaiters, and Disposable Masks?
Again, you'll be allowed to go shopping with just about any face covering — and that includes old-fashioned bandanas you might buy at Amazon or Walmart, as well as homemade cloth masks, neck gaiters, or disposable masks.
However, some research shows that bandanas, in particular, are not as effective as other kinds of face coverings in stopping the spread of cough or sneeze droplets, even if the bandana is made of good material and has a high thread count. In other words, just throwing a bandana around your face may not cover it; ideally, you need something tight enough to form a seal around your mask, and thick enough to keep your fluids from spreading. (On the other hand, Pepperdine University offers instructions on how to fold and wear a bandana properly in the age of coronavirus.)
The University of California-Berkeley cautions that cheap disposable surgical masks "do not make a tight seal with the face [so] particles can enter around the edges of the mask," and that some bandanas and gaiters are often made of thin, breathable material "which means a decreased ability to contain droplets." So while any of these options suffice for you to go shopping in stores, they may not be the most effective kinds of masks you can use.
It's also well worth keeping in mind this basic piece of advice from UC-Berkeley, which has been repeated by experts everywhere: "Any face covering is better than nothing."
If you've seen clear face shields and have been wondering if they are a good option, the CDC says it "does not recommend use of face shields for normal everyday activities or as a substitute for cloth face coverings."
Can You Buy N95 Masks Now?
You might have heard about N95 masks, which are equipped with particulate-filtering facepiece respirators. These are one of the most effective masks available. But these masks, like many of the Personal Protective Equipment that frontline workers need, are still in relatively low supply and high demand among essential workers. That's why the Food and Drug Administration recommends that the general public continue to use cloth masks, so that N95 masks can be reserved for “health care workers and other medical first responders.”
How Do You Wear a Face Mask Properly?
We previously interviewed Regina Riggs, a registered nurse in Edgewood, Kentucky, about proper mask fit, and this was her advice:
"There should be no gaps anywhere around the mask with any type of movement. You should not be able to taste anything through the mask," she said. “You should also be able to bend over with no mask movement. You should be able to hold a conversation without any changes in the position of the mask.”
Riggs will test her mask with a bitter spray, and if a member of her staff can taste the spray, the mask is too thin and therefore ineffective. Since you most likely don't just keep a bitter spray around the house, you can double-check your mask using this technique that Dr. Scott Segal, chairman of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health, gave to the New York Times.
“Hold it up to a bright light,” said Dr. Segal. “If light passes really easily through the fibers and you can almost see the fibers, it’s not a good fabric. If it’s a denser weave of thicker material and light doesn’t pass through it as much, that’s the material you want to use.”
How Often Should I Clean My Mask?
You should wash your mask after every use, according to the Centers for Disease Control. You can throw it in the laundry, or you can create a bleach solution "with 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) household bleach per gallon of room temperature water" or "4 teaspoons household bleach per quart of room temperature water." Soak for five minutes and then rinse with cool water. Also, wash your hands both before and after putting the mask on.
So What Are Some Good Masks to Buy?
We made a list of recommended face masks back in the early days of the pandemic. Here are a few more notable masks worth highlighting.
As recently seen on Today, Nano Air Masks use advanced nanofilter technology to filter out 95% percent of airborne particles. Partnering with the Long Beach company PURE-MSK, Nano Air Masks are designed to be worn comfortably all day.
The California tool company AstroAl has a Nylon mask that is available on Amazon that features a four-layer filter system. Just remember to remove the filter valves before you put it in the washing machine.
The San Francisco-based online clothing retailer is now offering double-layer knit cotton fabric masks, and is donating 10% of sales to the ACLU.
Created by the online health and wellness site Infrawear (which is “the exclusive distributor for Genesprint Group Ltd, a Hong Kong based Biotech company”), the RxMask is made from the same stretchable, anti-odor nano-technology embedded material as the company’s popular RxBra. It’s durability and breathability makes it ideal to wear during an outdoors, socially-distanced exercise class.
Adidas has long been one of the most trusted names in athletic apparel, and if you need something to wear while going for a run or some other athletic activity, their "Face Covers," made from breathable, stretchable material, will get the job done.
A Vernon, California-based kitchenware company that’s moved from making aprons to making masks, Hedley & Bennett has partnered with Robert Cho, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon for their Fight Mask collection. The poly-cotton masks come with a removable, washable filter for extra protection, and the company will donate a mask to frontline health care workers and farmworkers.
The Michigan-based sailing apparel company WindRider designed this Polyster/Spandex neck gaiter, which can also be worn as a mask or a bandana, to protect against UV rays, but fans of the brand have started using it as COVID-19 protection. The material wicks away moisture, which is helpful during the sweaty days of summer.