Apple will once again require anyone inside its US retail stores to wear a mask as concerns mount over rising Covid-19 cases and the spread of the Omicron variant.

“Amid rising cases in many communities, we now require that all customers join our team members in wearing masks while visiting our stores,” Apple spokesperson Nick Leahy said in a statement Tuesday.

[Apple operates two stores in the Research Triangle area, one at Crabtree Valley Mall and the other in Durham at Streets at Southpoint.]

The iPhone maker had gradually relaxed mask requirements in some cities and regions over time, based on local regulations. Masks were mandatory at about half its stores prior to this week’s policy change, Leahy said.

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Apple has changed its store policies several times over the past two years in response to developments in the spread of Covid-19, such as closing, reopening and re-closing stores on multiple occasions. The company has served as something of a bellwether for the broader retail industry’s response to the pandemic. Other US businesses including Walmart, Starbucks and McDonald’s also reinstated their mask mandates earlier this year in response to the spread of the Delta variant.

Some US states such as California and New York have also temporarily reinstated mask mandates indoors, with New York providing an exemption for businesses that require proof of vaccination.

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