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Deep Dive: Grocery Shopping During COVID-19

Grocery store produce
Posted at 7:18 PM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2021-01-28 12:26:12-05

COLORADO — Grocery stores are an essential service during the pandemic and recent concerns have come up from workers and small business owners in the community. As everyone works to get through the pandemic, there are certain protocols in place to keep everyone safe and steps public health leaders are encouraging everyone to take.

Since the start of the pandemic, grocery stores in Colorado have made some adjustments. From adding plexiglass barriers, special hours for vulnerable populations, and limiting the number of people in stores.

With the holiday season underway, concerns have come up over the number of people allowed in grocery stores and whether or not precautions are being enforced.

Union workers with grocery stores in the state including King Soopers and Safeway recently called on their employers to reinstate a $2.00 hourly wage increase or "hazard pay." Between March and May, employers offered some form of "appreciation pay" to employees, not specifically designated as hazard pay.

In a press conference this week, union representatives said they feel there's been a lack of enforcement from business owners when it comes to enforcing public health guidelines.

In a statement, King Soopers said in part, "Our most urgent priority throughout this pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers while meeting our societal obligation to provide open stores, e-commerce solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain so that our communities have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials."

Recent outbreaks in El Paso County have included cases at Costco, Trader Joe's, and King Soopers locations

Concerns have also come up from local business owners in the state, specifically restaurant owners. While grocery stores are at 50 percent capacity- restaurants in level red designated counties in the state aren't allowed to have indoor dining.

"I just feel like small businesses are being singled out, especially in the restaurant industry," Joe Frodge, owner of La Baguette in downtown Colorado Springs, "they remain open but they shut restaurants down, it makes no sense to me."

Outbreak data from the state released Wednesday shows 36 active outbreaks in grocery stores statewide.

Table: Colorado COVID-19 active outbreaks by location setting

COVID Setting TypeCount of COVID Setting Type
Adult Sports Club/Team2
Agriculture - Other2
Child Care Center67
Construction Company/Contractor20
Construction Site19
Convenience/Corner Store1
Correctional, Other29
Distribution Center/Business11
Food Distribution5
Food Manufacturing/Packaging11
Food Warehouse4
Grocery Store36
Healthcare - Acute Care Hospital14
Healthcare - Alcohol/Drug Abuse Treatment (inpatient)8
Healthcare - Alcohol/Drug Abuse Treatment (outpatient)1
Healthcare - Ambulatory Surgery Center2
Healthcare - Assisted Living137
Healthcare - Combined Care12
Healthcare - Facility for Developmentally Disabled (inpatient)12
Healthcare - Facility for Developmentally Disabled (outpatient)5
Healthcare - Group Home5
Healthcare - Hospice4
Healthcare - Independent Living Facility5
Healthcare - Memory Care4
Healthcare - Outpatient62
Healthcare - Psychiatric Hospital4
Healthcare - Rehab Facility2
Healthcare - Skilled Nursing118
Home Maintenance Services3
Homeless Shelter10
Indoor Entertainment/Rec9
Law Enforcement - Other12
Law Enforcement Administration2
Materials Supplier10
Meat Processing/Packaging2
Non-Food Manufacturer/Warehouse38
Office/Indoor Workspace76
Outdoor Entertainment/Rec9
Personal Services5
Religious Facility13
Restaurant - Buffet1
Restaurant - Fast Food11
Restaurant - Other5
Restaurant - Sit Down40
School Administration7
School K-12184
School/College Dorm2
Social Gathering9
State Prison18
Trade School2
Youth Sports/Activities7
Grand Total1312

El Paso County Public Health says grocery stores are subject to the same protocols as all businesses when it comes to social distancing and having capacity adjustments.

"Really anytime anyone leaves their home they have to remember there can be a possible exposure anywhere they go," Natalia Gayou, Epidemiologist with El Paso County Public Health said.

While grocery stores have had reported outbreaks, public health works with businesses to determine the best course of action. The size of the store and the timing of cases plays a big role in determining what happens with the business.

"It's just going to be a case by case basis, Gayou said, "whether that would be a closure or not will depend on that facility and that situation."

Ahead of the holidays, following public health guidelines is key as public health leaders work to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Most large grocery stores also offer delivery and pick up options for shoppers who can't or prefer not to shop in person.

For smaller, local, grocery stores, owners say managing the number of people coming in and out of the store has been easy to manage.

"People aren't lingering much like they would in a bigger store you don't have to walk all the way to the other side of the store," Aubrey Day owner of Bread and Butter Neighborhood Market said.

Bread and Butter Neighborhood Market opened its doors earlier this year, meaning the only reality known is one during a pandemic.

"It's easier for us to keep things clean in here because have 4-5 carts and 10-12 baskets," Day said.

Day says while they don't offer services such as curbside pickup and delivery yet, it's something they're going to look into in the future.

"Being such a new store that was a little bit beyond our capacity to begin with but I think those things will probably outlast the pandemic as well," Day said.

King Soopers Full Statement

Our most urgent priority throughout this pandemic has been to provide a safe environment for our associates and customers while meeting our societal obligation to provide open stores, e-commerce solutions and an efficiently operating supply chain so that our communities have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials.

We are proud of our dedicated associates who are on the frontlines, serving our customers when they need us most. Since March, we have invested more than $1.3 billion to both reward our associates (i.e., Appreciation Pay, Hero Bonus, Thank You Pay, store credits and fuel points, etc.) and to safeguard them and our customers through the implementation of safety measures. Additionally, of shared significance, in November, we announced the investment of nearly $1 billion to help secure and stabilize pensions for our associates.

We continue to listen to our associates and take steps to ensure their safety and well-being. We also continue to execute dozens of safety measures and provide support to our associates through benefits like paid emergency leave, our $15 million Helping Hands fund, which provides financial support to associates experiencing hardships due to COVID-19 – including child care and our best-in-class benefits including health care and paid time off.

We remain committed to our safety and sanitation standards; included below are some of the measures we are implementing and continually updating to protect the safety of our associates, customers and our communities:

  • Providing gloves and face coverings for every associate, every shift
  • Plexiglass shields installed at checkout stands
  • Educational floor decals to ensure physical distancing
  • Handwashing, cleaning and disinfecting more frequently
  • Limiting store capacity to 50% of normal (1 person for every 120 square feet of store space)
  • Increased store sanitation processes when restocking
  • Mandatory temperature and symptom checks for associates prior to starting their shifts
  • Communication with all employees to review, confirm and reinforce safety and social distancing best practices

Our total COVID-19 incident rate continues to track below the rate in surrounding communities where we operate. Our stores are coordinating closely with local health departments and taking immediate action to support and safeguard our associates and customers when we learn of a positive COVID-19 case among our workforce. We are committed to providing a safe working and shopping environment and will continue to work closely with federal, state and local public health authorities as they work to coordinate our country’s response to slow the spread of COVID-19.