GameStop customers in the United States will be required to wear a face mask in all stores, the company announced Friday. The new protocol will go into effect on July 27. Customers with “concerns, or health-related issues in wearing a face covering” are all directed to use the GameStop online store.
“We believe this is the right thing to do to ensure the heath, safety and well-being of our associates and customers from the growing spread of COVID-19,” GameStop CEO George Sherman said. “Providing a safe environment in our stores for all customers and store associates continues to be our top priority and wearing a face covering is a simple step every one of us can take to ensure the safety of others in our stores.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control began recommending face masks in public in early April. Face masks can prevent air particles from traveling as far as they might otherwise — a crucial step in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Not only obviously sick people should wear masks, either; COVID-19 can also be spread through asymptomatic people, too, who might unknowingly spread the virus.
It sounds simple, of course, but the novel coronavirus pandemic “is more than a public health crisis,” as Recode wrote in May. Misinformation has made mask-wearing a contentious political statement that has sparked protests in some places. Many states have implemented their own mask requirements, but plenty of counties are refusing to enforce those mandates.
Large retail stores have begun issuing their own policies that require shoppers to wear face masks inside. GameStop joins a list of retailers with mask rules, which includes Target, Walmart, Publix, Best Buy, and Starbucks.
The mandate is a stark contrast to GameStop’s early response to the pandemic, in which the company argued it was an “essential” business that must remain open when non-essential stores had to close. Employees told Polygon believed the company was putting its retail workers at risk. Days later, GameStop closed its U.S. stores to customers in response to the government shutdown, offering only curbside pickup and delivery. Stores began reopening in late April.
Update: A person identifying themselves as a GameStop employee, who wished to remain anonymous, sent Polygon what appeared to be an internal memo that was distributed to GameStop employees through its internal communication system, GSO. Polygon has reached out to GameStop for confirmation.
The memo lists “best practices” for addressing customers without masks: “Politely inform the customer masks/face coverings are now required for associates and customers at all GameStop stores.” If the customer does not have on a mask, the memo says that GameStop employees are to offer a complimentary one but cannot refuse service if the customer does not comply.
“Do not ask a customer to leave the store if they are not wearing a mask/face covering,” reads the memo. “If a customer refuses to wear a mask/face covering or is attempting to escalate the situation, calmly ask the customer what you can assist them with and complete their transaction as quickly as possible.”
The employee told Polygon the policy is “dangerous and cowardly.” Vice first reported on the memo, citing three employees’ frustration with the policy and including a quote from a company spokesperson, who said the policies were about “keeping our associates safe.”