When local supermarkets and grocery stores open Friday morning, they will be following the latest guidelines set forth by the governor’s office in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, which has already led to the closure of non-essential businesses across the state.
Governor Ned Lamont announced late Wednesday evening that across the state, retail establishments would remain open but follow new “Safe Store Rules,” which include cutting maximum capacity in half, regulating aisle traffic to one way only, and a number of new requirements and suggestions to help maintain social distancing between customers and employees as well as regulating crowds within those stores.
Among the other new requirements put in place, stores are asked to limit occupancy to 50% of normal capacity, clearly mark six-foot spacing in lines on the floor at checkout lines and other high-traffic areas within the store. Self-serve food options like salad bars are to be discontinued, and “touchless” credit card transactions are to be allowed. In situations where touchless payments are impossible, supermarket employees are urged to clean credit card machines and pay screens regularly, as well as regular cleaning and sanitizing of shopping cart and basket handles.
For many supermarkets and grocery stores in the area, these new regulations aren’t much more than a formal declaration of precautions they have already begun putting into practice.
“We’ve already been putting stuff in place,” said Mark Zimkiewicz, a manager at Big Y in Plainville. “So there’s really not a big adjustment needed on our part.”
Zimkiewicz’s store has already posted signage about keeping distance between customers and regularly cleans pay areas and shopping carts. Many other grocery stores have the same measures already in place, though the one potentially noticeable change could be crowd regulations, which will now see maximum capacity cut in half. But according to Zimkiewicz, his store hasn’t seen an uptick in traffic that would require those measures to be put into action, though his store will be ready to do so if necessary.
“It’s really just been business as usual,” Zimkiewicz said. “We haven’t had to limit any incoming traffic at all.”
In Newington, Stew Leonard’s has put similar guidelines as Big Y into practice, making the latest guidelines nothing more than a minor change.
“We're just following the guidelines and doing what we need to do,” John, a manager at Stew Leonard’s, said. “We've already been spacing out [customers] along the way, so this is kind of what we've already been doing.”
Regulating the crowd size within the store will be new for Stew Leonard’s, but the manager doesn’t see the change being one that will have to be utilized very often, as more shoppers continue to limit visits and trips outside as much as possible, and use delivery services for groceries more often.
“We’re just going to follow the guidelines like everyone else,” he said, “I’m here in the afternoon and things aren’t too busy. Maybe we’ll need it in the morning when the store opens, but I’m not sure.”
Based on social media responses, the reaction to these latest regulations have been mainly mixed, with many believing the rule of 50% capacity not being strict enough as COVID-19 cases in the state continue to rise.
“So now you’ll have people standing in line waiting to get in,” Donna Anderson said in a reply to Lamont’s tweet announcing the new executive order. “This will create more empty shelves because people will panic and over-buy. I shouldn’t have to go to the store every day trying to find essentials because some people freak out and buy all they can.”
A number of responses on social media expressed doubt in enforcing one of the new regulations that requires grocery store employees to use facemasks and gloves when working near customers. Responses showed that many couldn’t see how grocery stores would be able to have access to facemasks and gloves, since they’re in such low supply as it is. But not all responses have been negative, particularly from employees of these retail stores, who seem to appreciate any measures taken to help ensure their own safety at work.
“Thank you for your leadership,” Keri Hoehne tweeted in a reply to Lamont. “And for taking steps to keep our UFCW members safe at work.”