WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Grocery stores prepare for tightening social distancing requirements

Posted April 9, 2020 9:04 a.m. EDT
Updated April 13, 2020 7:15 a.m. EDT

Updated April 13, 2020: As we head in to the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in North Carolina, social distancing has become absolutely necessary to reduce exposure for everyone.

On Monday, April 13 at 5:00 pm, a new executive order from Gov. Cooper with tougher guidelines for social distancing for retailers during the coronavirus outbreak will go into effect.

The executive order places stronger rules toward these practices and makes it mandatory for every location.

"This should make shopping safer," Cooper said, "and help prevent stores from becoming flashpoints of the virus."

Retailers will have to take the following steps:

* Limit the number of customers inside at any one time to 20 percent of allowed capacity under fire regulations, or five people per 1,000 square feet.

* Maintain 6-foot separation between customers at checkout lines and other areas where customers congregate.

* Routinely disinfect stores.

​​​The order also encourages retailers to:

* Limit aisles to one-way traffic.

* Install plastic shields to separate cashiers from customers.

* Set aside specific hours for senior citizens to shop.

* Make hand sanitizer available for customers and staff.

Cooper said the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association backs the new guidelines to keep people apart inside stores, so he doesn't expect many violations by individual retailers. But law enforcement can issue citations for Class 2 misdemeanors for any violations, he said.

April 8, 2020:

Many stores that are still open have began implementing new measures for tightening social distancing requirements.

Harris Teeter announced that they would be implementing customer capacity limits at all stores to further protect associates and shoppers.

According to their press release, "Beginning April 8, Harris Teeter will limit the number of customers to 50% of building code capacity to further support physical distancing in its stores. Store associates will monitor the number of customers to ensure the capacity limit is maintained."

The move comes as Gov. Roy Cooper weighs options for new social distancing requirements for retailers that could force stores like Harris Teeter to limit their capacity even more.

Jason Kierstead, store manager at Carlie C’s in Garner, says they’ve implemented several safety precautions but there is no limit to the number of shoppers allowed into the store.

“I know there’s been some chatter about that, so, if they come out and say you’re going to have to limit them that’s what we’ll do,” said Kierstead.

He worries limiting customer capacity could lead to longer lines at a time of unprecedented demand.

Kierstead has added 15 new employees to his staff to handle the increase in business.

“The work is here. There is plenty to do,” said Ronnie Whitaker, who got laid off three weeks ago as a restaurant host. "I’m enjoying it so far. I don’t know where it’s going to carry me. I’ve already retired, but this may be my next job.”

Carlie C’s says they have hired an additional 250 employees and there are still openings at all 25 locations in North Carolina, including four in the Triangle.

“Everybody is just very appreciative just to keep the check coming in,” said Kierstead. “Even though they’ve talked about a stimulus check and unemployment, a lot of people want to keep working.”

Harris Teeter has introduced a number of other safety measure in recent weeks to promote physical distancing, including the installation of plexiglass protective shields at check stands, Customer Service and Pharmacy counters, floor decals at checkout and signage throughout the store.

The company shared on March 26 that they are also hiring 5,000 employees for their stores and distribution center.

See the details on the Harris Teeter website.

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