Retail operators, grocery stores look for ways to limit employees’ exposure to COVID-19 |

Retail operators, grocery stores look for ways to limit employees’ exposure to COVID-19

Marralee Figueroa serves customers at Ace Hardware on the west side of Steamboat Springs. The locally run hardware store has built and installed Plexiglas guards to limit their employees' and customers' possible exposure to COVID-19.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS —Employees at Steamboat Ace Hardware have been busy building and installing Plexiglas shields that will protect clerks and customers from the spread of COVID-19.

City Market, Safeway, Walmart and Natural Grocers also have plans to add these shields, known as “sneeze guards,” to a long list of things they are doing to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. These tactics include adhering to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention protocols and following rules established by the state and county health departments. The stores are increasing efforts to sanitize frequently touched surfaces, reducing hours so employees have time to can stock shelves and providing special hours when shoppers who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 can shop separately from the general public.

“We actually built Plexiglas shields ourselves,” said Bridget Kelly, manager of Steamboat Ace Hardware. “Sometimes, it’s nice to be a hardware store, because we have all the supplies we need. So we’re getting those built and all of our employees that want to are wearing masks. We also have goggles and gloves to wear.”

Additionally, the store is limiting the number of customers who can be in the store at the same time to 15, which is well below the number allowed by the public health order issued by the Routt County Board of Health earlier this week. Kelly said the store is currently evaluating that number and it may go up to 17.

“We just want to limit the number of customers we have in the store at this time for their health safety and our employee’s health safety,” Kelly said. “We’re just trying to make sure we don’t have a lot of people in the store and then it becomes really hard to maintain that 6-foot difference.”

The other major retailers in Steamboat are also taking similar actions.

“The health and wellbeing of our associates, our customers and our communities is our top priority,” said Jessica Trowbridge, with City Market and King Soopers corporate affairs. “We have implemented additional social distancing measures including ‘Line Starts Here’ signage, and we are monitoring the flow of customers into our stores. Additionally, we are beginning to install the Plexiglas partitions across the state.”

At Natural Grocers crews have already begun installing sneeze guards at checkout areas in the Denver area. They will add stores across the state in the upcoming weeks. The store in Steamboat is currently limiting customers to 75 at a time to comply with the county public health order.

Safeway also has plans to add the Plexiglass guards to its checkout lanes as a protective barrier between customers and checkers at its stores. According to Safeway regional spokesperson Kris Staaf, they will be installed in the company’s more than 2,000 stores over the next two weeks, including the location in Steamboat Springs. The store is also monitoring the number of customers in order to comply with county requirements.

“We are working closely with Routt County Department of Environment and Health, and at this time, we are not limiting our customer count into the store,” Staaf said. “At this time we are not exceeding the amount of customers allowed under the current ordinance even at peak times. We will continue to monitor and adjust as needed.” 

The guards are also planned for Walmart and should be installed in the pharmacy lanes as well as regular checkout lanes in the next three weeks.

“We are taking every precaution necessary to keep our stores safe, cleaned and sanitized,” Rebecca Thomason, senior manager of corporate communications for Walmart, said in an email. “Those steps include delivering updated protocols to associates through videos and photos, as well as schedules for cleaning to help provide clear guidance. We also have a voice-activated app called Ask Sam that associates can use to ask for cleaning guides for any area of the store. “

She said the store also will be installing floor decals at entrances and in checkout lanes to make it easier to judge proper social distancing.

Many stores, including Ace, also offer online shopping. At Ace, people can order online or call into the store and have their items shipped directly to their homes by UPS or FedEx. The store also offers delivery or curbside pickup.

“I think people are understanding more and more that it’s important to stay home,” Kelly said.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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