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Grocery stores take steps to protect cashiers and customers

Stew Leonard Jr., president of the chain, in

Stew Leonard Jr., president of the chain, in the Norwalk, Conn., store on Tuesday, behind one of the Plexiglas barriers. Credit: Stew Leonard’s

Grocery chains are installing Plexiglas barriers between cashiers and customers in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Shoppers at local Lidl, King Kullen, Stop & Shop and Stew Leonard’s locations will start to see the barriers go up in the coming days, officials said Tuesday.

“What we’re trying to do is just make it as safe as possible for not only the team members working here but [also] the customers. That was one area that we couldn’t figure out — how to keep them 6 feet away because of the register,” said Stew Leonard Jr., president of Stew Leonard’s, a Norwalk, Connecticut-based chain with seven stores, including two on Long Island — in Farmingdale and East Meadow.

After testing a barrier at its Norwalk store for a few days, Stew Leonard’s ordered Plexiglas for all of its stores' checkout lanes Tuesday, Leonard said.

Stop & Shop also is installing Plexiglas and asking customers to stand behind the barriers until their payments are complete, said Stefanie Shuman, spokeswoman for the Quincy, Massachusetts-based chain.  Groceries are bagged at the end of the counter, not on the side, to keep more distance, she said.

Owned by Dutch retailer Ahold Delhaize, Stop & Shop has more than 400 stores on the East Coast, including 51 on Long Island.

The coronavirus is spread most often by an infected person coughing, releasing droplets of saliva or mucus to people nearby, typically within 6 feet, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The virus also can be transmitted by a person touching a contaminated surface and then touching his eyes, nose or mouth.

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Aside from close contact between shoppers and cashiers at checkout lanes, maintaining “social distancing” of 6 feet throughout grocery stores over the past few weeks has been difficult as unprecedented numbers of panicked shoppers packed stores — picking shelves clean of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, household cleaning products, bread, milk and other items. 

The barriers are a useful tool to help prevent the spread of the virus in stores, but a multipronged approach to help reduce the spread should still be stressed, said Nellie Brown, director of Workplace Health and Safety Programs for the Worker Institute at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

A barrier “doesn’t eliminate the problem of the commonly touched objects being still shared, but it does address the problem of airborne droplets,” said Brown, who said retailers’ measures also should include scheduled hand-washing breaks for employees, finding ways to reduce the use of paper coupons and encouraging customers to pay with credit/debit cards instead of cash.

Not only is German-based discount grocer Lidl installing Plexiglas barriers at its more than 90 stores in nine East Coast states, including four Lidl stores and 21 Best Market stores on Long Island, but the chain also is adding signage about social distancing, contactless payments and temporary restrictions on food returns. 

Bethpage-based King Kullen Grocery Co. Inc., which has 29 King Kullen supermarkets and five Wild by Nature natural food stores on Long Island, will start its installation of Plexiglas barriers, 4 feet by 4 feet, at checkout lanes Wednesday and it should be done in a week, spokesman Lloyd Singer said.

“Additionally, customers shopping with reusable bags are now required to bag their own groceries. We also ask that customers sanitize their reusable bags between shopping trips,” he said.

Additional measures at Stop & Shop include signage being added to stores to remind customers to stand at least 6 feet away from others and to sneeze into their elbows.  A black strip of tape will be put on the floor 6 feet from the credit/debit card key pad in each checkout lane to indicate where customers should stand while they wait in line, Shuman said.

Additional efforts at Stew Leonard's include asking cashiers to open only every other lane and posting signs asking shoppers to keep 6 feet apart.

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