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 coronavirus cases; 1 million were diagnosed in the past 15 days alone.

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, the company says, 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.

Anyone who comes into a store without a mask will be offered one, a McDonald's representative said in an email to NPR. If they refuse the mask, the customer 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 its 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 said in a statement about the plan.

Like many other restaurants, the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed stark changes in how McDonald's does business. It 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 became one of the first large national restaurant chains to require face masks. Popular retailers and grocers, from Walmart and Kroger, to Panera Bread, adopted similar policies earlier this month. 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 growth of COVID-19 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, the country has one of the largest outbreaks in the world, with some 300,000 confirmed cases.

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