- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2020

Starbucks said Friday it was closing most of its company-operated cafes in the U.S. and Canada for two weeks while relying on deliveries and its drive-thrus to continue serving customers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Let’s be real. Lattes aren’t ‘essential’,” Starbucks executive Rossann Williams explained in a letter to employees. “But in times of crisis, the government asks convenient food and beverage outlets to remain open when possible for pickup, Drive Thru or delivery.”

Exceptions are being made for Starbucks locations in and around hospitals and health care centers so that the company can continue to cater to medical professionals, the letter said.

Starbucks, which owns most of its more than 15,000 locations in the U.S., said licensed partners are being allowed to decide on their own whether to follow suit or stay open.

All employees will continue to be paid for 30 days regardless of whether they decide to work or not, however, the company said.

The announcement from Starbucks came days after the company aimed to reduce “social gathering” in its cafes by removing seats and transitioning to only serving “to go” customers at its North American locations.

“While we have worked hard to exceed any public health requirements, our cafés in some areas are experiencing high traffic, and we need to do more to prevent the spread of this virus. This is a crisis that is moving quickly, and we need to stay ahead of it and do our part, recognizing this is often confusing, frustrating and dynamic,” wrote Ms. Williams, the Starbucks executive in charge of the company’s U.S. businesses, in the letter to employees sent Friday.

Health officials have urged people to avoid crowds and keep a safe distance from others in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the infectious and potentially deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus discovered in China late last year.

The number of known domestic cases of COVID-19 has nonetheless surged recently, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventing identifying more than 15,000 infections as of Friday.

Several states — namely California, Connecticut, Illinois and New York — have asked non-essential workers to stay at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, making roughly one-in-five Americans subject to restrictions unprecedented in modern history.

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