EVERETT — A trip to the grocery store keeps getting trippier.
What was once an act on autopilot now requires constant vigilance.
Stay two shopping carts apart. Stop on the floor space markers.
Instead of background music, intercoms warn shoppers to practice social distancing. Keep moving, don’t linger to gossip with your Zumba pals.
Many stores are installing plexiglass shields as sneeze guards at checkstands and service counters.
It might start to look more like a medical clinic than a supermarket. Store chains are urging the government to supply masks and gloves for workers.
Checkers, baggers and stockers are among those at the frontline of COVID-19 survival for all of us who have to eat. While you’re at it, add custodians to the list.
Uniforms and pay
Some workers are already wearing masks and gloves.
“There is a national shortage of personal protective equipment like this, and we fully support America’s health care workers having first priority to obtain the equipment they need,” a statement from QFC and Fred Meyer stores said. “We are advocating to government officials at all levels for help securing a priority place in line for all grocery workers — after health care workers — to have access to protective masks and gloves.”
Safeway and Albertsons frontline associates are getting a $2 increase above regular hourly pay. Whole Foods Market workers also got a $2 hourly raise.
Other stores are offering bonuses and pay increases. Many are hiring.
Many stores have special shopping hours for seniors, pregnant women and others at risk for infection.
This week, Costco started reserving 8 to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursday for senior shoppers. At Walmart and Walgreens, it’s an hour before the store opens on Tuesday.
Seniors get the place to themselves an hour before Target stores open on Wednesday. Employees can shop an hour before stores open Monday, Friday and Saturday.
The Fred Meyer and QFC senior hour is 7 to 8 a.m. Monday through Thursday. At Safeway and Albertsons, hours are from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday.
Dollar General, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s dedicate the first hour of operations each day for the shopping needs of seniors.
The senior hours share a common theme of being early.
“I kinda wish they had a late night shop,” one senior citizen remarked on social media.
‘Paper or plastic?’
That old supermarket catchphrase might make a comeback.
Just when you finally remembered to start bringing in your reusable bags, many stores are asking to please leave them in the car.
In Snohomish, Mayor John Kartak has temporarily suspended the city’s bag ban. That means supermarkets can hand out single-use bags and customers won’t be charged.
Stores that still have extra plastic bags stashed away can use those as well. Using a new bag each time protects cashiers and customers, Kartak said.
“It’s important for checkers to know the bags they are using are sanitary during this emergency, to make sure our grocery stores can make a more healthy and safe checkout process,” he said.
Kartak heard from people who were concerned for the workers, and then met with store managers and the Snohomish City Council to make the decision.
The city’s law went into effect at the beginning of this year. Single-use grocery bags were banned, and a 10 cent fee was placed on paper sacks. It also said businesses would be fined $250 for each violation.
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin made a similar decision. On Monday she signed an emergency order to exempt retailers from the city’s usual bag ban.
That rule has been in place since September 2019. It outlawed single-use plastic bags, and ordered a 5 cent charge for each paper bag.
Eventually, the laws will be enforced again, once things start to return to normal.
Come January, single-use plastic bags will be banned statewide.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday signed a new permanently allowing retailers to offer either a paper bag or a thick reusable plastic one to customers who do not bring their own. The new law will supersede bans in place in Snohomish County.
Some stores have placed plexiglass partitions between checkstands and customers.
These may soon be everywhere.
“Many of our stores are beginning the installation process this week, and we anticipate every check lane having a partition, including pharmacy counters and Starbucks registers, within the next several weeks,” a QFC press release said.
Stores have designated waiting points with floor decals to keep people apart. Customers are also being asked to not unload their groceries on the counter until the transaction ahead of them is completed.
Respecting social distance rules in the aisles can be a challenge.
Responding to a Facebook post by The Daily Herald, Carol Greenwood Brister wrote, “ … unless they install one-way traffic lights and limit the number of shoppers in each aisle, it is what it is. I’m not going to freak out because someone passed me too closely, and I’ll shake my head at those who do … we’re doing the best that we can under the circumstances.”
Cherie Dean, a supermarket employee, wrote: “Distancing is going OK, although the red lines on the floor did cause 2 grown men to come to blows in the store and in the parking lot where they ran into each other’s cars.”
Dean also said: “Using sanitizer after every customer is causing a rash and my fingers are cracking … We clean, clean, clean all day to make sure the store is safe for everyone.”
Shopping at the co-op
At the Sno-Isle Food Co-op in Everett on Wednesday, each of the three checkstands already had guards in place.
Clear plastic blocked two sides of the clerk — the front and above the conveyor belt. A narrow hole on that side allowed food to slide through.
It seemed to keep the cashier safe, but she said it was hard to hear customers. The barriers have been installed over the past few days, another worker added.
Red X marks taped on the ground also showed those waiting in line how far they should stand from one another. A sign reminded people to be aware of social distancing.
Shoppers were told to hold onto their personal bags, and the checker wore blue disposable gloves.
Only one lane was open that morning. The line stretched halfway through the store, as the cashier thanked customers for being patient over the loudspeaker.
No one appeared to be in a hurry.
Herald reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.