Grocery Stores In The US May Need To Ban Public To Protect Staff From Deadly Virus, According To Experts

Grocery Stores In The US May Need To Ban Public To Protect Staff From Deadly Virus, According To Experts

Essential store workers are putting their lives at risk by coming in contact with thousands of shoppers.

With the rising numbers of cases across the country, medical experts are under enormous pressure. However, not many recognize the daily struggle of essential store workers who are also putting their lives in danger by coming into contact with customers. 

According to Fox10, after having seen the deaths of several grocery store workers despite the use of precautionary masks and other measures, some experts, union leaders, and small grocery owners believe it is time to ban people from entering supermarkets and other essential stores.

These concerns were raised by experts after stores flooded with people, making it impossible for workers to practice social distancing. Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers' union stated, "Careless customers" were "probably the biggest threat" for store workers at a time like this. The union also added that about 85 percent of customers were not practicing social distancing at the stores.


Other experts too backed the opinion by saying it was important to save the lives of workers through the public ban.

"Anything that reduces the need for interaction with the public and allows for greater physical distancing will ultimately better protect grocery workers," stated John Logan, professor and director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University, according to CNN. He added, "Shuttering stores and repurposing them for pickup and delivery only would be a positive step."


Meanwhile, some grocery stores in the country have already initiated measures to protect its staff. 

Mike Houston, general manager of Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op in Maryland switched to curbside pickup and prevented the public from accessing the store in late March. "It was clearer that there was no real way to protect my staff and the public, especially as we served 960 people a day on average in a 4,200-square-foot store," said Houston, according to CNN. "I'm unwilling to put grocery store employees, essential though we are, in a position to risk what can be a fatal infection," he added.  "Any store still allowing hundreds of members of the public to enter every day is taking a calculated risk on behalf of their front line staff. That is highly irresponsible to me," said Houston to CNN.


Other stores such as Best Buy with an already existing online presence have switched to online services. Whole Foods in New York have closed down their store to encourage online services.  Kroger (KR) and Giant Eagle have also taken their services online in a few locations. 

While the step is necessary to prevent staff from contracting the virus, many companies and experts point out the disadvantages of shopping online. With the rising demand, not many stores are equipped to carry out a smooth delivery. In addition to it, a store would require more employees to operate online. Though many larger stores have hired more people, smaller stores do not have the resources to do so.

Apart from this, stores are forced to raise the pay to keep their staff from leaving due to the pandemic. This leaves the stores with lesser gains in spite of the increase in sales. "We have no choice. They have to stay open. [America's grocery] delivery system has not matured to the point where we can switch to an entirely remote system," said Seth Harris, former deputy secretary of labor, according to CNN.


Moreover, customers belonging to the low-income groups may not be able to pay the fees that come along with online delivery. Taking these points into accounts, some feel that it is not the ultimate solution to protect the lives of essential store workers. "Workers would still have exposure if they are delivering goods or if they are in the supermarket," said Charlane Obernauer, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health to CNN. 

However, the authorities have not yet released any statement relating to the ban of the public in essential stores. But the US Labor Department encouraged retailers to use drive-through window and curbside pick-up last week.

The California Department of Industrial Relations also asked companies to encourage customers to make use of the online order and pick-up services. Other state and city authorities have forced the public to follow stricter measures.  Los Angeles, Miami, Washington DC, New Jersey, Maryland and New York asked customers to wear face masks while shopping. Some states have asked shops to close their non-essential sections.