Grocery Stores Update, Expand COVID-19 Safety Protocols

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Walmart COVID-19

Credit: Walmart

Walmart customers stand six feet apart from each other as they wait in line to enter a store. Along with some other retailers, the company is introducing strict new social distancing requirements that include limiting the number of shoppers allowed inside a store at one time to 20 percent of that store’s maximum occupancy. Some states such as Delaware are also mandating that there be limits on the number of shoppers allowed in any store at one time.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues, grocery stores and other retailers that remain open as life-sustaining businesses are continuing to update their policies and expand mitigation efforts in an effort to help keep both employees and customers safe from COVID-19.

Below are just some of the latest updates shared by some of the retail chains that have a presence in east central Pennsylvania. Please be aware that as the pandemic progresses, additional changes will undoubtedly be introduced. Be sure to follow businesses that are being impacted by the outbreak on social media to receive the latest news and updates.

ALDI

Aldi said in an update published on its website Thursday that it is “actively sourcing personal protective equipment for our employees to use, upon request” and that “disposable gloves have begun deploying this week and over the next week we will start to ship masks, as supplies permit.” Social distancing signage and flood decals have been installed along with Plexiglass barriers at checkout lanes. The company also said that it has suspended the practice of placing customers’ scanned items into a different shopping cart at checkout. “Our customers will now keep the cart they started with throughout their entire visit to ensure the best possible hygiene and safety for all,” the statement said. Along with most other grocery retailers, Aldi has increased its hiring efforts. Aldi also announced Thursday that it has “donated $1 million to community organizations to support those in need.”

THE FRESH MARKET

The Fresh Market has reversed a policy that prohibited the use of masks by employees. In an update published on the company’s website Saturday, it said that in light of Friday’s revised CDC masking recommendations “our store teams may wear cloth face coverings.” The company said the health and safety of its employees is paramount and that it is taking steps to help keep them safe. “Any team member who is required to undergo mandatory quarantine qualifies to receive our emergency COVID-19 pay where they receive their regular pay for up to 14 days,” the April 4 update said. “It is also important to recognize our team members for their extra efforts during this time, and we are thanking them with additional health benefits, food purchase discounts and compensation.” The Fresh Market said Plexiglass sneezeguard installation at its registers would be completed by April 5, and noted that it has also introduced contactless credit card checkout where no signature is required. It is also increasing the number of curbside pick-up locations for online ordering at its stores.

GIANT

The company recently announced that it has placed a limit of two on a number of items in key categories, such as toilet paper, and said in a recent update that “there’s plenty of food (and paper goods) in the supply chain.” However, even with the limits in place and a new social media campaign called More for All that is supposed to educate consumers about purchasing only what they actually need, there are still shortages occurring in some stores like the one at 1880 Leithsville Road in Lower Saucon Township. The company has added sneezeguards at its front end registers, Beer & Wine registers, customer service desks, in-store Starbucks kiosks and pharmacy counters. The company is encouraging customers to use full-size shopping carts to aid with social distancing, and also announced that it is extending the expiration date for gas points earned in April an additional 30 days to June 30, 2020. As of Saturday Giant had not stated whether or not it will allow its associates to wear masks, in spite of a CDC recommendation Friday that Americans wear them when in public to help slow the spread of the pandemic.

Giant Toilet Paper COVID-19

The toilet paper aisle at the Giant store in Lower Saucon Township was completely empty Friday, April 3 at approximately 7 p.m. Several customers said they had to time their visits to coincide with an early weekday morning delivery in order to purchase the popular paper product. The company is limiting customers to two packages of toilet paper per purchase.

TARGET

Beginning Saturday, Target said it would “actively monitor and, when needed, limit the total number of people inside based on the store’s specific square footage.” If necessary a team member will help guests into a designated waiting area outside with social distancing markers, “while others will guide guests inside the store and keep things moving quickly and conveniently,” the company said. Target said that over the next two weeks it will begin to provide all store and distribution center employees with “high-quality, disposable face masks and gloves at the beginning of every shift, and strongly encourage our teams to wear them while working.” The company said it will also provide masks and gloves to Shipt shoppers. Plexiglass partitions (sneezeguards) have been installed at Target checkout lanes and other stations in recent days and weeks. Target also said it is donating two million KN95 respirator masks to the medical community.

WALMART

Walmart is now closing stores overnight for cleaning and restocking. The company said in a news release Friday that it is also “installing sneeze guards and social distance markers in stores; beginning temperature checks; and starting to make gloves and masks available to associates who want them.” Some Walmart stores such as one in Hazleton, Luzerne County, have begun to close departments stocked with what are considered to be non-essential items like clothing by erecting barricades made from stacks of pallets. In Pennsylvania there is currently no statewide order limiting the number of people in stores, but beginning Saturday Walmart said it would limit the number of customers who can be in a store at once. “Stores will now allow no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet at a given time, roughly 20 percent of a store’s capacity,” the company said. “Associates at a store will mark a queue at a single-entry door (in most cases the Grocery entrance) and direct arriving customers there, where they will be admitted one-by-one and counted. Associates and signage will remind customers of the importance of social distancing while they’re waiting to enter a store–especially before it opens in the morning. Once a store reaches its capacity, customers will be admitted inside on a ‘1-out-1-in’ basis.” Some states like Delaware have enacted similar rules due to the pandemic.

WAWA

Wawa has announced via a COVID-19 FAQ section on its website that it is “preparing to make masks available in its stores, as supplies permit, for associates who would feel more comfortable wearing them.  Until masks are delivered to Wawa stores, associates may wear personal masks in the interim.” The company said the use of “civilian masks” by its associates will not impact the medical community, which is facing a shortage of the N95 masks health care workers need. In light of Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf’s request Friday that all residents wear masks in public and revised CDC guidance many individuals and groups are making their own masks from paper, cloth and other materials, and even the U.S. Surgeon General created a viral video (below) in which he demonstrates how to make a mask out of a t-shirt. Wawa said it has “implemented the CDC social distancing strategy for our customers and associates with in-store announcements, signage and markings. We are enhancing and reinforcing this effort with distancing aids, in the form of clear, plastic shields, at our check-out counters.”

WEGMANS

Wegmans recently reversed course and announced that it would allow workers to wear approved face masks in its stores after initially disallowing the use of them. Staff members must provide their own PPE with regard to masks and they must meet company standards. In addition to other changes to the physical environment in its stores, Wegmans said on its COVID-19 FAQ page that it will install Plexiglass shields at its pharmacies and front-end registers over the next few weeks.

WEIS

Weis Markets announced Friday that it is installing 36 by 24 inch protection panels–also known as sneezeguards–at all registers, customer service desks and pharmacy counters in its stores by April 10. Weis said it has ordered “large quantities of plastic face shields, reusable face masks, disposable surgical masks and latex gloves for its associates.” These changes are in addition to other steps the company has taken to help keep shoppers and workers safe, such as the installation of social distancing markers and hourly cleaning of high contact areas like cash registers, self-scan units, credit-debit terminals and gas pumps.

WHOLE FOODS

Whole Foods has said any team member who wishes to wear a mask while at work may do so, and like some other grocery retailers, has added shopping hours “designated especially for team members to allow them to purchase the items they need. Although not mentioned on the company’s website, according to media reports stores are also adding sneezeguards (partitions) at registers and in other areas.

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