The old store policy of “No shirt, no shoes, no service” has been replaced with “No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Major retailers including Walmart, CVS and Lowe’s have made wearing a mask inside their stores a requirement for customers within the last week.

The stores’ mask policies came on the heels of Gov. Ralph Northam’s July 14 announcement to ramp up enforcement of his mask mandate in public places. The governor announced he was directing teams of inspectors to make surprise visits to businesses throughout Virginia to observe whether or not they were enforcing the mask mandate.

“If you own a restaurant or a business and you’re not following regulations, your license will be on the line,” Northam said.

Thursday morning shoppers at the South Boston Walmart came prepared to comply with the store’s new policy, wearing face coverings as they approached the supercenter’s entryway.

Amanda Bates, an employee of the private security agency Securitas, stood in a tent at the entrance of the walkway to the store entrance. A Walmart employee sat at her post at the end of the walkway just outside the store’s front door with disposable masks at the ready for customers who forgot to bring one with them.

“We have to reinforce that everyone is wearing their mask unless they have health issues…We hope they come prepared,” Bates said. “I ask them when they walk up, ‘Do you have your face covering?’ If not, they have some masks up there (at the store’s entryway) that they’ll hand out for them. If they refuse to wear a face covering, they’re not allowed inside unless they have a health issue.”

Bates sometimes stands outside the store for 12 hours plus, from 7 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., and she said enforcing the mask policy is not an easy job at times.

“I’d say 20% of people are very rude, and 80% are very appreciative or just go with the flow,” Bates said.

One of the Walmart shoppers, Leon Davis of South Boston, said he is in favor of the store policy.

“I think it should be in place — anything that’s going to help the people of America and especially this community,” Davis said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Another shopper, Carolyn Martin of Scottsburg, also was happy to comply with the mask policy.

“I like to wear mine because somebody could have the virus and you don’t know it,” Martin said.

Another Walmart customer, Roger Chandler of Virgilina, also is in favor of the store’s mask policy.

“I think they should have it. Stop the spread (of the virus),” Chandler said.

Gabriel Davis of South Boston wore a mask as he approached the Walmart entryway but said he is not in favor of the mask policy.

“I think people are kind of being treated like sheep so they can enforce their agenda because this is an election year,” Gabriel Davis said. “I’m also kind of perplexed why people are taking this so seriously when the flu killed more people than the coronavirus…The coronavirus has a 99% survival rate.”

Gabriel Davis added that wearing the mask makes it “harder to breathe.”

Casey Staheli senior manager of national media relations for Walmart corporate communications, provided this statement about the superstore’s mask policy in an email sent to The Gazette-Virginian.

“This is a simple step we’re asking everyone to take for their safety and the safety of others in our facilities,” Staheli said. “We also recognize the role we play to help protect the health and well-being of the communities we serve by following the guidance of health officials like the CDC. We’ve been encouraging customers and members to wear a face coving in our facilities for a while now through various communications in store, online and through PSAs.”

Staheli added that Walmart has signs posted at each store entrance reminding customers of the mandatory mask policy and has a “health ambassador” at the door reminding customers of the local requirements and encouraging the wearing of masks. At some stores, such as the South Boston store, Staheli said Walmart also has “third party resources” posted at the entrances to remind customers of the importance of wearing facial coverings inside the store.

Staheli noted Walmart also has required store employees to wear facial coverings during their shifts since April 20.

CVS also has a mandatory mask policy in place. CVS Health Chief Operating Officer Jon Roberts made the following statement in a July 16 news release:

“Since the pandemic began, we’ve done everything we can to keep people safe and healthy. This includes requiring that store employees wear face coverings and encouraging our customers to do so as well. In any community with state or local laws mandating the use of face coverings, we’ve made that very clear through signage and other reminders,” Roberts said. “With the recent spike in COVID-19 infections, we’re joining others in taking the next step and requiring all customers to wear face coverings when entering any of our stores throughout the country effective Monday, July 20.”

Joe Goode, senior director of corporate communications for CVS Health, shared in an email sent to The Gazette-Virginian that CVS Health has asked its employees to “avoid escalated confrontations with non-compliant customers” for safety reasons, and to instead “help them complete their purchases as quickly as possible while providing information about other options we have available for their future needs, including free home delivery for prescriptions and our drive-thru window service.”

He added the store’s employees all have received “protective masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies” to keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lowe’s also announced that it would require its customers to wear a mask inside its stores starting July 20.

“As a retailer offering essential goods, we have a responsibility to our associates, customers and small businesses in communities nationwide to help provide a safe shopping experience,” said Marvin R. Ellison, Lowe’s president and CEO, in a July 17 news release. “Throughout this pandemic, our associates have worked tirelessly so customers could get the goods and services they needed for their homes and small businesses. For the safety of everyone in our stores, we ask that customers wear masks, and to make this new standard less restrictive, we will make masks available to those who need them.”

Lowe’s has required all store associates to wear a mask during their shifts since May.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.