Oh Walmart

Sometimes you do things that are really dumb and then you redeem yourself with something incredibly smart.

Last month Walmart announced it was going to remove all cashiers from its Fayetteville store #359 as a test. Now this month they are going to require all patrons to wear facemasks before entering the store.

The elimination of cashiers is a test amid the coronavirus pandemic to limit human interaction. There will still be employees to assist customers Everything will be self-checkout and, coupled with the new capabilities in the smartphone app, a near touchless experience.

To this writer, it is a case of the wrong thing for the right reason. Limiting physical interaction is one way to slow the spread of COVID-19, ergo social distancing. However, the psychological toll of social isolation is real and well documented. Psychology Today posted a prescient article on November 12, 2016, called “The Perils of Social Isolation”. The article abstract was concise, ‘When human contact is cut off, the brain may manufacture social experiences.’

That’s right, our brains are hardwired to need meaningful contact with other people. Without real human interaction, our brain and body start to do strange and often harmful things. Actual studies of loneliness confirm that it is bad for your health. It leads to increased stress hormones, poor sleep, cognitive decline, and a compromised immune system. Those are documented outcomes of loneliness.

I think in the middle of a pandemic having a buildup of stress hormones and weakening immune systems is the last thing you want to have. For some people, especially older, high-risk individuals, the early morning trip to Walmart is all the social interaction they get. Now they get less human interaction in store #359 in Fayetteville. It’s the right thing to try to stop the spread of the virus, but what about the other consequences. 1Cite: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-ooze/201611/the-perils-social-isolation

Now Walmart has a new angle to work trying to shift its weight around. Requiring masks to enter the store. The policy goes into effect on Monday (July 20th) and will fill the gap of about 35% of their stores that do not operate in locations where there are already government-mandated masks.

Walmart says this mandate was “to help bring consistency across stores and [Sam’s] clubs.” The CDC has been recommending the wearing of masks and face coverings for quite some time now, but it is only starting to be taken seriously by US lawmakers and corporations. Walmart’s new requirement to enforce masks at all 5,000ish locations is a huge step in the right direction. It has proved to be a step in leadership as well.

Within hours the Cincinnati-based grocery chain Kroger, and the department store Kohls both announced mask enforcement at all their locations. There is some punditry to be made about the politics of this move versus the movement of the state and federal government, but I am more concerned about the people.

Enforcing the wearing of masks by such a ubiquitous retailer could be the impetus needed for more retailers to take note and implement the same measure. Flattening the curve is a real thing, and the Washington Post has some excellent articles with visual simulations of how a pandemic-like disease spreads. As individuals, we can help flatten the curve using social distancing and wearing masks out in public. Flattening the curve does more than simply reduce the number of new infections spread. It keeps the healthcare system from being overrun, and it buys time for researchers to work towards creating a vaccine.

But Walmart. Oh, Walmart. This is a case of the right thing for the right reason. I live in a state that mandates wearing a mask in public, but I live in a county of that state which voted down the state-wide mandate. Walmart’s specially trained army of black polo-wearing staff may be getting the short end of this stick.

I spoke with the General Manager from our local Walmart about it to ask him about his opinion but was directed to 1-800-WAL-MART to speak with a media relations person. So I did. Penetrating the automated system proved more difficult than I initially expected. Actually, impossible. So I took to the internet instead. I’ll update this article with what they come back with, because there will certainly be some backlash in small towns such as mine, and de-escalation techniques take more than a short course to learn.

I’ll update the article when I hear back from them.

  1. Expected backlash in small towns?
  2. What kind of training do the black polos go through?

To go along with the comments from the corporate media relations I also decided to contact our local police department to get their opinion on the matter it is a small town after all. I know several of the officers by name. If things did escalate they would certainly need to be involved. The police department where I live is very kind and I’m waiting for a callback from the police captain right now.

  1. Law enforcement’s expected involvement/enforcement?
  2. What if Walmart uses the ‘right to refuse service’ option?

It is an unusual statement for me to make, however, I am quite proud of Walmart for taking this stance. The COVID-19 crisis is a serious one. People are literally dying due to this disease. The virus spreads undetected for days. So an infected person can spread the disease without even having symptoms. It is also hopeful that other large retail chains have followed suit with Walmart. Hopefully more will.

I guess I should say something like: “we’re all in [this pandemic] together” now.

Cover photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

Author: Phillip

Phillip is a dad of three boys married to a beautiful dedicated woman. An aspiring artist and science fiction author. He has been an IT professional for the past 15 years. He is currently working on a full-length sci-fi novel, but he also makes small drawings/watercolors for his school-age son's lunchbox and occasionally pretends to be a comedian. He also still struggles with putting two spaces at the end of sentences.

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