Dozens of grocery store workers have died from the coronavirus, despite masks, temperature checks and capacity restrictions to keep them safe. So far, supermarkets have resisted the most draconian policy: banning customers from coming inside. However, some worker experts, union leaders and small grocery owners believe it has become too dangerous to let customers browse aisles, coming into close range with workers. Grocery stores are still flooded with customers, and experts say it's time for large chains to go "dark" to the public and convert to curbside pickup and home delivery for food and other essential goods.
"Careless customers" are "probably the biggest threat" to workers right now, according to Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers' union. The union said 85% of its grocery store member workers reported that customers are not practicing social distancing in stores.
Some big grocers are slowly starting to move in this direction. Whole Foods has closed down a store in New York City's Bryant Park area and transitioned it into an online-only store, focused solely on deliveries. Kroger (KR) and Giant Eagle have switched a few stores to pickup and delivery-only locations. But these are a fraction of stores in their wide networks. And most large chains have hesitated to shut down to the public. Instead, they are implementing more limited policies like taking workers' temperatures and restricting the number customers inside stores at a time.
Some companies and safety experts say it's not feasible to convert all grocery stores to delivery and pickup-only outposts. Ordering systems for both pickup and delivery are completely overwhelmed by a crush of demand from customers in many areas of the country. "We have no choice. They have to stay open. [America's grocery] delivery system has not matured to the point where we can switch to an entirely remote system," said Seth Harris, former deputy secretary of labor during the Obama administration.
Experts say it may be time for grocery stores to ban customers from coming inside because of Covid-19
Dozens of grocery store workers have died from the coronavirus, despite masks, temperature checks and capacity restrictions to keep them safe. So far, supermarkets have resisted the most draconian policy: banning customers from coming inside.