What to expect at grocery stores regarding safety, stock and hours

Grocery and drug stores across in the area are quickly implementing a number of changes to keep customers and employees safe. In addition, Gov. Cooper has also mandated new safety measures starting April 13 at 5 pm. Read on for the details.

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Grocery and drug stores across the Triangle and the country are implementing a number of changes to keep customers and their employees as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because they are considered essential businesses during this outbreak, grocery stores and drug stores will remain open even while there is a stay-at-home order in place in North Carolina.

Following are the precautions that many stores are taking to allow customers to continue to get their needed groceries in the safest way. Because this is a fluid situation, these restrictions may change in the coming weeks.

UPDATE on 4/13/20:

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:

* 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.

Stores Limiting Number of Shoppers

UPDATE: As of Monday, April 13 at 5 pm, stores will be required to 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.

Many grocery stores and drug stores are already limiting the number of shoppers allowed in their stores at the same time. Some stores have an employee standing outside and once the maximum number of people is in the store, another person is only allowed to go in to the store when a customer leaves the store.

The following stores have implemented formal temporary policies limiting the number of shoppers. You may see other stores regulating their store entry as well at this time.

* Aldi will allow five customers per 1,000 square feet starting April 9 and will have employees outside the store cleaning carts and letting customers in the store. In addition, medical professionals with ID can go to the front of the line and be let in to the store without having to wait. You will also find temporary one-way aisles to help customers maintain social distance from anyone else in the store.
* Costco will only allow 2 people to enter the store per membership card starting April 3. The new rule is being implemented to make it easier to social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
* Harris Teeter is limiting 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.
* Target has announced that starting Saturday, April 4, they will limit the total number of people in their stores based on the square footage of each store. If too many people are trying to come in to the store, an employee will direct customers into a designated waiting area outside the store that will be marked with social distancing markers. Other employees will be directing guests in the store and will keep them moving quickly and conveniently.
* Trader Joe's is limiting the number of customers in many stores including some Triangle locations.
* Walmart will begin regulating the number of customers who can be in a store at once on Saturday, April 4. Stores will allow no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet at a given time, roughly 20 percent of a store’s capacity.
According to the Walmart website, "To manage this restriction, the associates at a store will mark a queue at a single-entry door (in most cases the Grocery entrance) and direct arriving customers there, where they will be admitted one-by-one and counted. Associates and signage will remind customers of the importance of social distancing while they’re waiting to enter a store – especially before it opens in the morning. Once a store reaches its capacity, customers will be admitted inside on a “1-out-1-in” basis."

Safety Features Implemented In Stores

Most stores have now implemented a number of safety measures to protect employees and customers. Following are some of the precautions that stores are taking while this pandemic continues:

* Closing stores early for overnight cleanings and restocking
* Requiring employees (and customers at some stores) to wear a face mask at all times in the store. Starting Tuesday, April 14, The Fresh Market will begin requiring all customers to wear a face mask and in order to enter their store, you will need to have a face covering. Their employees are already required to wear a face mask. See the CDC website HERE for multiple ideas on making homemade face masks, including some that do not require any sewing.

* Assigning an employee to clean cart handles when they are returned

* Installing plastic sneeze guards at registers

* Wiping down register areas after every customer including customer-facing surfaces

* Placing social distance markers at checkout and outside the store where customers may have to wait when stores are regulating entry

* Showing signage throughout stores reminding customers to adhere to social distancing guidelines of at least 6 feet or more between any other people, including employees

* Providing non-surgical face masks and gloves for employees and delivery service employees to wear while working

* Taking the temperature of employees when they arrive for work.

* Limiting the number of customers who can be in the store at the same time

* Restricting the number of customers who can enter a warehouse club on the same membership card at the same time

* Instituting one-way movement through store aisles to limit contact (Walmart begins this measure the week of April 6 at many stores) and ALDI is starting this method of traffic flow through their stores on April 9.

* Requiring customers to enter at one door and exit through a different door in order to limit contact

* Closing fitting rooms in stores where clothing is also sold

* Closing hot and cold food bars

* Hiring thousands of additional employees (and offering hourly bonus increases to all employees) to meet the demand for online pick-up and delivery orders

* Offering concierge service for at-risk customers who can drive up, hand over a list and then pay when the products are brought out to the car (Sam's Club is offering this service)
* Accepting touch-free payment methods at check-out. Publix is now offering touch-free checkout at all stores as well as the ability to opt in to e-receipts. You can now pay with the Publix app for touch-free checkout. In addition, Publix is able to accept contactless cards and most mobile pay apps.

Stores Limiting Purchases of Specific Products

Because stock is low on many items in stores right now, especially toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes, meat, eggs and more, most stores have implemented product purchase limits. In most cases, toilet paper and other items are limited to one package per person.

Returns Not Accepted

Most grocery stores are no accepting returns at this time. If there is an issue with a grocery item, some stores will still issue a refund or exchange, but they do not want you to bring the product back in to the store. See your specific store for details.

Delays In Pick-Up and Delivery Times

As the number of customers who are ordering online for pick-up and delivery increases, the wait times to get these orders has increased significantly. Grocery chains have hired thousands of additional employees to meet the demand for those orders but the wait times for being able to pick up the products or have them delivered are still a couple days to more than a week for some locations.

Free Delivery for Prescriptions and Groceries

Many drug stores are offering free delivery for prescriptions and other products purchased with a prescription, including multiple area chain and privately owned drug stores. See a list of many drug stores offering free delivery HERE.
Carlie C's is offering free delivery to customers over the age of 60 when you place a $100 online grocery order and use the promo code. To redeem this offer, use the code Love65 at the online checkout through June 30, 2020. See the details HERE.

Adjusted Operating Hours

Many grocery and drug stores have reduced their hours of business until further notice to allow for extra cleaning and stocking time. In addition, many have added special shopping hours for seniors and those at greater risk during this pandemic.
CLICK HERE the new adjusted hours announced by the corporate offices for each of these stores. Please keep in mind that these hours can change and that an individual store may have different adjusted hours or may have to close briefly for cleaning during regularly scheduled hours. We are updating the list continually throughout the duration of this situation.

Senior and At-Risk Shopping Times

There are multiple stores here in the Triangle now offering dedicated shopping hours for seniors to help reduce their risk during the COVID-19 outbreak.

You will notice that many of these dedicated shopping times are early in the morning. Most stores are thoroughly cleaning at the end of the day and the stores restock the shelves at night after trucks make their deliveries. The early shopping hours allow seniors and at-risk shoppers an opportunity to shop when the stores are cleaner and better stocked. In addition, stores are better able to reduce traffic from other shoppers if the store is not yet open for the day when the at-risk shopping time begins.

The early hours may seem like an inconvenience to some, but they are in place for the safety and benefit of those shoppers most at risk during this pandemic. If you prefer to stay out of the store completely, most stores are offering store pick-up when you order online. Once you have ordered, chosen a pick-up time and paid for your order online, you can then drive-up to the store and an employee will bring your groceries out to your car.

CLICK HERE for a list of grocery stores with delivery services as well as additional resources for seniors in need of assistance with grocery shopping.
CLICK HERE for the list of stores with adjusted in-store shopping hours including grocery stores, drug stores and warehouse clubs.

How You Can Protect Yourself While Shopping

There are many things that shoppers can do to protect themselves including using hand sanitizer, moving quickly through the store to limit the amount of time, staying at least 6 feet away from anyone else, only touching what you plan to buy, not touching your face, ordering online for pick-up or delivery to avoid going in to the store at all,

CLICK HERE for more details from WRAL's Nia Harden.
CLICK HERE to see additional tips from WRAL's Monica Laliberte.
For up-to-date information about the COVID-19 pandemic, go to


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