An alarming spike in U.S. coronavirus cases is prompting McDonald's to require customers to wear face masks at all of its more than 14,000 domestic-market restaurants, the company announced Friday. The policy takes effect on Aug. 1.
The U.S. now has more than 4 million known coronavirus cases; 1 million infections were diagnosed in just over two weeks.
Because face masks and other precautions have become a subject of contention in the U.S., the restaurant chain says it will help employees get "de-escalation training."
The goal, according to McDonald's, is to help restaurant workers respond productively when customers are unwilling or unable to wear a mask.
"In those situations where a customer declines to wear a face covering, we'll put in place additional procedures to take care of them in a friendly, expedited way," say McDonald's USA President Joe Erlinger and Mark Salebra, chair of the National Franchise Leadership Alliance.
Those who come into a restaurant without a mask will be offered one, a McDonald's representative told NPR via email. If they refuse masks, customers will be directed to "a designated pick-up spot a safe distance from other customers."
Other changes will include the addition of new protective panels in both customer and employee areas of restaurants.
"While nearly 82% of our restaurants are in states or localities that require facial coverings for both crew and customers today, it's important we protect the safety of all employees and customers," Erlinger and Salebra say in a statement about the plan.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced McDonald's, like many other restaurants, to make stark changes in how it does business. The company now emphasizes "McDelivery" through Uber Eats or DoorDash, for instance, and it urges customers to use mobile apps for contactless ordering and curbside pickup.
Earlier this month, Starbucks and Panera Bread became some of the first large national restaurant chains to require face masks. Popular retailers and grocers such as Walmart and Kroger recently adopted similar policies. Costco began requiring masks in early May.
The new precautions at McDonald's also include a plan to postpone dine-in operations for another 30 days.
In addition to the increase in coronavirus infections in the U.S., McDonald's says it's imposing the new restrictions because of recent reports that suggest virus-bearing droplets can linger in the air "for extended periods of time, increasing the risk of virus spread, especially from asymptomatic carriers."
As of Friday, McDonald's customers in England are also now required to wear face masks, due to a new government policy. While the U.K. falls far short of the U.S. coronavirus figures, it has one of the largest outbreaks in the world, with some 300,000 confirmed cases.