Apple to Again Require Masks at U.S. Stores and Limit Crowds
(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc., coping with a resurgence in Covid-19 cases and the new omicron variant, is reinstating its mask mandate at U.S. retail locations and will proactively limit store occupancy.
The technology giant said it’s requiring masks for shoppers -- a rule that had been dropped at about half of its U.S. stores -- to “support the well-being of customers and employees.” “Amid rising cases in many communities, we now require that all customers join our team members in wearing masks while visiting our stores,” the company said in a statement Tuesday.
The reversal underscores the challenges of getting Apple’s retail operations back to normal. The Covid resurgence is hitting at a particularly difficult time, with the holiday shopping season reaching its final stretch. The company expects to generate record sales this quarter, with analysts predicting revenue of about $118 billion.
Apple had limited store occupancy when it began reopening its retail locations in the early months of the pandemic last year, but it eased those restrictions as case counts fell and vaccine availability widened in 2021. Now the precautions will return.
“This is a busy time of year in our stores,” Apple said in a memo that was obtained by Bloomberg News. “Proactively monitoring and managing store occupancy will enable you to engage with customers and teammates at a distance that feels more comfortable.”
In the memo, Cupertino, California-based Apple said the change “comes after reviewing the latest trends in Covid-19 case counts across the U.S., as well as local guidance.” The memo also said that masks are required for both customers and employees regardless of vaccination status and that it is encouraging workers to receive a booster shot.
The new rules come as multiple states, including California and New York, reinstate indoor mask mandates on surging cases. At the same time, lawmakers in other areas have pushed back against mask rules, creating a thorny situation for retailers. Apple also noted in its memo that customers “may have a medical condition or religious exemption that prevents them from wearing a mask.”
Over the past several weeks, Apple has also adopted new rules for testing, requiring retail workers to take rapid tests to check for Covid-19 multiple times per week.
The resurgence also could hinder Apple’s plans to get corporate employees back to work. After several delays, the company told staff last month that it will requite office employees to begin coming in three days per week on Feb. 1. Other technology companies have already started delaying return plans until later next year or beyond.
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