Starbucks will start requiring its customers to wear face coverings inside its stores starting on July 15, making it the first major restaurant chain to take a step that health experts believe to be crucial in slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
The Seattle-based coffee giant announced the change in a notice to customers on Thursday. The company said the decision was made as part of its “continuing effort in prioritizing the health and well-being” of its employees and customers.
Starbucks suggested that customers without masks in communities not covered by government mandates to wear one can order either through the drive-thru, curbside pickup or delivery.
“The company is committed to playing a constructive role in supporting health and government officials as they work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Starbucks said.
Masks have become a flashpoint in the country’s response to the coronavirus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends mask-wearing, and various studies have shown them to be effective in reducing the spread of the virus.
A study published last month in the journal Health Affairs, for instance, found that 15 states that mandated face masks had a greater decline in daily coronavirus growth rates than those that didn’t.
Yet fewer than half of states have such a mandate. Resistance to masks has led to highly publicized disputes between customers and employees at many retailers and restaurants. Some local restaurants have closed their doors after complaining that their workers were abused by customers angry over mask requirements.
Some large retailers, however, have taken steps to require mask-wearing, such as the giant wholesaler Costco. The Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade group, has called on the nation’s governors to make masks mandatory to avoid a “patchwork of local mandates” that have “made it incredibly difficult to focus on implementing the right safety protocols.”
Yet few restaurant chains have taken this step, even as states reopened their dining areas to customers.