WASHINGTON — Apple plans to restore its mask mandate for shoppers and employees in half of its 270 U.S. stores on Thursday.
The move comes as COVID-19 numbers rise across the country, driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
In a memo given to Bloomberg News, the company informed retail staff of the decision Wednesday, following new mask recommendations from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Apple has also informed corporate staff that they must wear masks inside office buildings too.
“After carefully reviewing the latest CDC recommendations, and analyzing the health and safety data for your local area, we are updating our guidance on face masks for your store,” Apple told staff. “Starting July 29, face masks will be required in store for customers and team members -- even if they’re vaccinated.”
Apple is the first major retailer to change its mask policy in response to the CDC recommending vaccinated people wear masks indoors again in areas with substantial or high community transmission of COVID-19.
The memo also reportedly urges staff to get vaccinated, but stated it's not required. “Apple encourages everyone who is eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, to take it,” the company wrote to retail employees. “Please talk to your doctor and decide what’s right for you.”
According to USA Today, Apple stores that will require masks are in COVID hotspots or in areas that have local or state mandates. The company plans to list which ones are impacted on its website.
The Cupertino, California, company was one of the first to shut down all of its U.S. brick-and-mortar locations during the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
The CDC's new guidance applies to places with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week, which is roughly 60% of all U.S. counties, federal officials said. Nearly all of the South and Southwest is subject to the guidance, but most communities in the Northeast — with the exception of major metro areas like New York City and Boston — are exempt for now, according to the CDC's COVID tracker.