What are local supermarkets and grocery stores doing to not only protect shoppers but their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic? Two local grocery store workers talk about how they’re staying safe at work and what shoppers can do to make their jobs easier.
Lizzy Stocks says she’s grateful to have a brother who works in health care. For one thing, she wouldn’t have had a homemade mask to wear to work for the past few weeks.
“Every day I go to work, I interact with dozens of people, whether it be customers or co-workers, who are also interacting with multiple people, so it’s definitely anxiety-riddling knowing any one of us could be unknowingly asymptomatic or infected,” said Stocks, 23, who has worked at Price Chopper for more than three years.
The Framingham State University graduate works in the deli department, where she believes she’s safest because she’s behind a counter. But she’s always wearing gloves during interactions, with a hand-wash sink readily available.
“Unfortunately, the cashiers do not get this same luxury, but they now wash their hands hourly,” she said.
Frequent hand washing and sanitizing surfaces was always the norm, but since the pandemic, workers now must wash their hands after serving each guest and sanitize surfaces every hour, she said. The deli is always stocked with gloves and sanitizer, although she said the store hadn’t been able to provide any masks for workers.
At Walmart, employees have their temperatures taken at work and are asked basic health screening questions before they start their shifts. Anyone with a temperature over 100 degrees will be paid for reporting to work and asked to return home and seek medical treatment if necessary. They will not be able to return to work until they are fever-free for at least three days, said the company.
“I think they’re doing as much as they can right now,” said a local store manager who asked that his name and employer be withheld because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
The 29-year-old from Waltham, who has worked for his employer for 13 years, said it’s less a matter of what grocery stores are doing to keep everyone safe as it is of shoppers doing what they can to make others safe.
“It’s more about not going shopping just to go shopping – go when you really need to,” he said. “And being considerate of workers as much as possible. Those are the biggest things. Do two-weeks of grocery shopping, and don’t bring the whole family.”
“I know you may feel stir-crazy sitting at home, but going to the grocery store to ease the boredom is not the answer,” she said. “Each unnecessary trip adds up, so the more people go out, the longer we will all have feel stir-crazy sitting at home. Please go out only when necessary, and stay safe.”
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that shoppers wear cloth face coverings in public settings, such as in grocery stores, the national public health institute is now currently requiring store employees to wear protective gloves or face masks. Many local supermarkets and grocery stores are encouraging the practice and have amped up their cleaning practices, too.
Gov. Charlie Baker has also issued guidance that supermarkets should only allow customers into stores until the number of people, employees included, is at 40 percent capacity.
At Price Chopper, time has been set aside for customers 60 years and older to shop from 6 to 7 a.m. every day. Signs encouraging frequent hand washing, sanitizer use and using disinfectant wipes have been installed, and time-off requests for associates related to COVID-19 are granted immediately, according to a spokesperson from the company.
The same is guaranteed for Wegmans employees, which are offered COVID-19 disability paid sick leave, which provides a higher rate of pay starting on the first day and eliminates the need for medical documentation from a health care provider, according to the Rochester, New York-based company. The chain has also increased employee pay by $2 an hour during the months of March and April; has installed plexiglass shields at pharmacies and front-end registers; and is operating stores at 15-20% of maximum occupancy – lower than the new state requirement of 40% ordered by Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday.
Quincy-based Stop & Shop has hired a third-party cleaning service to help clean all 413 of its stores from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., in addition to what employees are wiping down. Other stores have started taking the temperature of employees before they clock in for work.
Shipments for hot-ticket items like toilet paper and hand soap have been more consistent lately, but store associates are not responsible for how quickly they arrive, said the grocery manager.
“We do get customers coming in that are mad, and are constantly asking us questions about when something’s going to be in,” he said. “It might be here now, but maybe not in 10 minutes.”
He said he feels less daily anxiety about going to work nowadays, and his shifts have shortened up a bit as the new normal settles. His store provides gloves and masks to employees, but he says he forgoes the protective gear, instead consistently using hand sanitizer throughout his shift.
He said many employees do wear gloves, however, especially those handling money or products, and the number of people wearing masks is also steadily increasing. If an employee doesn’t feel comfortable reporting to work, they don’t have to, he said. And some haven’t.
There is one thing that can brighten the day for someone working at a grocery store or supermarket – and that’s being thanked for keeping the stores up and running.
“I really appreciate all the customers that come in and thank us – that’s always really nice,” he said. “Some people I think just need to lighten up a bit, and stop being angry and getting frustrated about things we can’t control.”
Lauren Young writes about politics, social issues. Reach her at 774-804-1499 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurenatmilford.