Gap (GPS -3.00%) this week joined many of its retailing peers in announcing widespread store closures tied to the COVID-19 outbreak in parts of the United States.

Starting on March 19, the apparel giant will shutter its retail locations across all its brands, including Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic. This initial shutdown will last for 14 days and is aimed at maximizing social distance in the critical early period of coronavirus' spread.

"To assist in the efforts under way to slow the spread of the coronavirus," incoming CEO Sonia Syngal said in a press release, "we are closing all stores in North America for the next two weeks."

A woman stands on a mall escalator.

Image source: Getty Images.

Gap intends to provide pay and benefits to all store employees impacted by the closings. From there, the retailer is hopeful that it can quickly return to full capacity and work toward improving on a fiscal 2019 year management called "challenging and disappointing." Sales declined 3% last year compared to a 1% drop in 2018.

Projecting ahead to the eventual return of a normal operating posture, Syngal said, "we look forward to welcoming our customers back in our stores soon."