T-Mobile closes 80% of retail stores amid COVID-19 outbreak

T-Mobile is the latest retailer to close physical stores amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Bellevue, Wash.-based wireless carrier will close about 80% of its company-owned retail stores starting March 17 until at least March 31 in response to government social distancing recommendations. T-Mobile already closed stores inside malls.

Coronavirus Live Updates: The latest COVID-19 developments in Seattle and the world of tech

The remaining 20% of stores will be open on reduced hours. T-Mobile will staff the stores only with workers “who are willing to come in and support our customers,” wrote T-Mobile President Mike Sievert in an email to employees. The company has thousands of stores across the country.

“I want you to know that we take our responsibility to each other very seriously,” he wrote. “Despite these closures and distancing measures, we are implementing an approach for our hourly Retail employees, who are on the frontlines serving our customers, to maintain their target income even during these initial closures this month.”

Microsoft announced late Monday it would close its stores. Apple, Nordstrom, Nike, and others made similar announcements over the past week.

T-Mobile is reducing staffing levels and increasing distances between workstations at its customer service centers, which are separate from the retail locations. It will continue paying customer service employees at “Care” centers if they need to stay home due to COVID-19 symptoms; are at high risk; or have had exposure to anyone who has the virus.

“These aren’t simple decisions, but they are the right ones,” Sievert wrote. “We’ve said it before – the service we provide to keep our customers connected is essential, particularly right now. This is not a time to focus on tackling the competition. This is our time to focus on our community and do our part to stop COVID-19 from spreading.”

The FCC on Sunday gave T-Mobile access to additional 600 MHz spectrum to meet increased customer demand for broadband during the COVID-19 outbreak. T-Mobile asked for additional spectrum to provide service for telemedicine, work, and other daily tasks. Networks are likely feeling the strain of thousands of Americans suddenly working from home to slow the spread of the virus.

The carrier is giving all customers (who already have plans with data) two months of unlimited data, excluding roaming. It will also provide free international calling for all customers to Level 3 impacted countries.

T-Mobile announced Tuesday that it will give up to $500,000 to Feeding America, a national hunger-relief organization. It will also give $100,000 to the COVID-19 Respond Fund run by the Seattle Foundation, and is offering a 2:1 match for employees who give to Feeding America or the CDC Foundation.

T-Mobile will soon merge with Sprint as part of a $26.5 billion deal. The “New T-Mobile” will be led by Sievert, who will take over for John Legere as CEO on May 1.

T-Mobile stock is down 20 percent over the past month amid a larger stock market slump.