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When Mark Wahlberg helped ring in the grand opening of Walmart’s second health clinic in Calhoun, Ga., alongside a raucous crowd of customers in January 2020, the world was a very different place. It was a celebrated moment at an exciting time in Walmart’s push to open a string of new clinics scattered across America. The plan to build out its health care footprint seemed to have a shot at success: What busy parent wouldn’t jump at the chance to tackle the grocery list and their child’s earache in a single trip?
The pandemic that soon followed has blurred the prospect of that success. Today, with Covid-19 curbing foot traffic and giving virtual care a clear, if temporary, edge, Walmart appears to be facing a reality check on its lofty visions of high-touch, in-person care. The retailer has opened just 20 of the 125 clinics it planned to have operational by the end of the year, Insider reported. The efforts of Best Buy, another retail giant with health aims, are meanwhile gaining steam after an $800 million acquisition of remote monitoring company Current Health. Analysts and industry observers say that for all the progress and setbacks, it’s clear that major retail players are still committed to using their multibillion-dollar budgets to position themselves for a long game in hybrid health care.