- The Washington Times - Friday, March 27, 2020

Retailers have implemented extra precautions for customers and employees as they struggle to provide goods and services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cleaning more rigorously, hosting special hours for vulnerable customers, extending paid sick leave and putting up signs about social distancing are some of the steps stores have taken to ease anxiety for consumers and workers.

“We’re taking any and all measures to ensure the well-being of our customers and associates. To that end, we remain in contact with the CDC, as well as respective state health departments, and are taking every precaution necessary to keep our stores safe, cleaned and sanitized,” said Charles Crowson, senior communications manager for Walmart.

Walmart stores adjusted operating hours to help employees restock shelves and sanitize surfaces, and provided a voice-activated app for workers to use for cleaning guidance.

The retail giant has installed plexiglass “sneeze guards” at pharmacy lanes, and will set up these barriers at regular registers over the next three weeks. It also has placed floor decals at entrances and in checkout lanes to help customers gauge proper social distancing.

Target said it will station staff members at store entrances to make sure carts are clean for customers. Employees will clean checkout lanes after each transaction and alternate the use of lanes to allow deep cleaning of those not in use. Target will stop accepting in-store product returns and exchanges for the next three weeks, but will honor returns that expire within that time period.

For now, Target is pausing the sales of reusable bags and is asking customers who shop with these to bag their own items at checkout. Paper and plastic bags will be available, and any local fees will be waived during this time.

The stores are expanding dedicated shopping hours for seniors and those with existing health problems, reserving Tuesday and Wednesday mornings for vulnerable customers starting this week. CVS, its partnering pharmacy, also will open early to accommodate these shoppers.

Grocery store chain Trader Joe’s temporarily has closed some of its stores in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, where staff members tested positive for COVID-19, for cleaning and restocking. The store in Elkridge, Maryland, which closed due to a suspected COVID-19 case, reopened Friday.

Trader Joe’s is limiting the number of customers in a store at one time, exercising social distancing practices, cleaning carts and baskets and suggesting shoppers limit their purchases to two per item. The grocery chain is stressing that its employees stay home if they are sick or feeling unwell, offering an additional seven days of paid sick time. For staff quarantined for or diagnosed with coronavirus, Trader Joe’s is providing up to two weeks of paid leave.

Customers will not be charged for Trader Joe’s paper bags, and the grocery stores are installing plexiglass at registers.

Whole Foods is adjusting its hours and opening its stores to customers who are 60 years and older one hour before opening to the general public. The natural and organic market is working under Amazon to expand free, two-hour delivery and door-drop services for Prime members in more than 2,000 cities and towns. It also is trying to expand pickup services to all markets in a shorter time frame.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, said stores could check their employees’ temperature before work as another precaution. He also offered some shopping tips:

⦁ Order groceries online or by phone, then pick up the items at the store to minimize contact.

⦁ If groceries or other items are delivered, wash your hands after handling packages and wipe down cardboard boxes.

⦁ Visit the store during non-peak hours.

⦁ When shopping during “seniors only” hours, be aware of long lines and observe the 6-foot rule of social distancing.

⦁ Use self checkout when possible.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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