Shoppers at all Smith's Food and Drug stores will be required to wear face coverings beginning Wednesday, July 22, in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Kroger, which operates Smith's, made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, the same day Walmart declared it will also mandate face masks in its stores starting next week.

"As an employer, grocery provider and community partner, we have a responsibility to help keep our associates, customers and communities safe. According to the CDC, wearing a facial covering, combined with social distancing and frequent handwashing, has been scientifically proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19," Kristal Howard, media relations and corporate communications head for Kroger, said in an email Wednesday.

The company said it is taking the extra step now because it recognizes that additional precautions are needed to protect the nation amid the pandemic.

Kroger also gave a nod to those who legitimately are unable to participate.

"We respect and acknowledge that some customers, due to medical reasons, may not be able to wear a mask (small children are exempt). We encourage those customers to consider an alternative option like a face shield or facial covering. If they’re unable to wear a mask or an alternative design, we request that they use our ecommerce services like pickup or delivery. To support all households during the COVID-19 pandemic, our grocery pickup service remains free (generally a $4.95 fee)," the email read.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published guidance on cloth face coverings, saying a mask "may not protect the wearer, but it may keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others."

"COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice (e.g., while shouting, chanting or singing.) These droplets can land in the mouths  and noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs," the CDC said.

"Cloth face coverings may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading it to others. Wearing a cloth face covering will help protect people around you, including those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and workers who frequently come into close contact with other people (e.g., in stores and restaurants)," the agency explained.

"Cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings. The spread of COVID-19 can be reduced when cloth face coverings are used along with other preventative measures, including social distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces," the CDC added.

Last month, the Department of Justice warned about fraudulent 'face mask exemption' cards. Although some of the cards, bear the DOJ seal, the agency did not issue or endorse any such cards, and the seal was printed on those cards without the agency's input.

The cards are worthless and grant the bearer no exemption whatsoever to any face covering requirement.

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