LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Starting July 22, Kroger will require all customers to wear a face mask in stores, the grocery chain announced Wednesday.

"With the increase in #COVID19 cases across the country, we are committed to doing our part to help reduce the spread of the virus," the company said in a tweet.

Employees were already required to wear masks.

"To help keep our associates and customers safe, we require all associates to wear a facial covering and we are providing masks to every associate, every shift," Kroger spokesperson Erin Grant said in a statement to WDRB News.

Face masks are required in public in Kentucky as part of the state's mask mandate that went into effect Friday.

Grant said Kroger supports the governor's order and is making "every reasonable effort to encourage compliance."

"We will enforce the order through door signage and in-store radio as well as the ongoing execution of additional protection measures like floor decals and protective partitions at every check lane to further promote physical distancing," she said.

The state mandate requires people to wear face masks inside all public-facing businesses in the commonwealth. The mandate exempts children under 5 and people with medical conditions that prohibit wearing a mask.

Grant said Kroger is encouraging customers who may be unable to wear a mask to consider alternatives, such as a face shield or facial covering. 

"If they're unable to wear a mask or an alternative design, we request that they use our e-commerce services like pickup or delivery," she said.

Grocery pickup at the store remains free amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union applauded Kroger's actions.

"Kroger's action to mandate masks for customers is long overdue and an important step that UFCW has been calling for since the beginning of the pandemic," the union said in a news release. "To help save lives, every retailer and grocery store across the nation must adopt a mask requirement, and enforcement must be done by trained professionals, not retail workers already stretched thin during this crisis."

The union said it represents 1.3 million workers, including nearly 14,000 Kroger employees across Kentucky.

Gov. Andy Beshear said last week that Kentuckians must also wear a mask outside when social distancing isn't possible as part of the mandate. Despite some controversy over the mandate, Beshear called it "a matter of life and death."

Walmart also announced on Wednesday that it would require customers to wear face masks in its stores.

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