Capacity limits in Mass. retail stores

Coronavirus Local Impact

Coronavirus Resources from the CDC

(WWLP/ – To help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, the Massachusetts Department of Health along with the Reopening Advisory Board has implemented mandatory workplace safety standards.

The state of Massachusetts has set up a four-phase approach to reopen the economy to minimize the health impacts of COVID-19. Massachusetts is currently in Phase III, Step 2 as of October 5 for lower-risk communities. Lower risk communities are defined as cities and towns that have not been a “red” community in any of the last three weekly Department of Public Health (DPH) weekly reports.

Phase III, Step II: 

  • Indoor performance venues will be permitted to open with 50% capacity with a maximum of 250 people. 
  • Outdoor performance venue capacity will increase to 50% with a max of 250 people.
  • For arcades and indoor and outdoor recreation businesses, additional Step II activities like trampolines, obstacle courses, roller rinks and laser tag will also be permitted to open and capacity will increase to 50%.
  • Fitting rooms will be permitted to open in all types of retail stores.  
  • Gyms, museums, libraries and driving and flight schools will also be permitted to increase their capacity to 50%.

Read more: Governor’s COVID-19 Order #51

Capacity Limits

Each business must monitor customer entries and exits and limit occupancy at all times to the greater of the following:

  • 50% of the building’s maximum permitted occupancy as documented in its occupancy permit on record with the municipal building department or other municipal record holder
  • Buildings for which no permitted occupancy limitation is on record may allow up to 10 persons (including staff) per 1,000 square feet of accessible space
  • In any case, no enclosed space within the building shall exceed occupancy of 10 persons per 1,000 square feet
  • All occupancy counts and calculations shall include customers, staff, and other workers

Operators of enclosed shopping malls and other indoor, multi-tenant retail spaces must monitor customer and worker entries and exits to common areas and limit occupancy of common areas at all times to 50% of maximum permitted occupancy levels.

Within enclosed shopping malls and other indoor multi-tenant retail spaces:

  • Retailers or restaurants serving food shall adhere to the latest restaurant protocols. Food court seating may be open provided that restaurant protocols, including spacing and cleaning of tables, are followed. In accordance with the COVID-19 Order No. 53 restaurants and food courts must close to the public no later than 9:30 pm and may not re-open to the public before 5:00 am the following day, although restaurants may continue to provide take-out service after 9:30pm.
  • Any additional seating areas must remain closed
  • Any children’s play areas must be closed
  • All arcades must follow the standards for Arcades and Other Indoor and Outdoor Game and Recreation Businesses

If the store offers delivery, curbside pickup capabilities, or limited “appointment only shopping,” customers should be encouraged to use those methods before coming into the store.

Grocery stores and retail stores with a pharmacy department must provide dedicated hours at least one hour each day of operation, in the early morning, for adults 60 years of age and older.  These hours must be clearly posted.

Ensure separation of 6 feet or more between individuals where possible:

  • Close or reconfigure worker common spaces and high density areas where workers are likely to congregate (e.g., break rooms, eating areas) to allow social distancing
  • Physical partitions must separate workstations that cannot be spaced out (partitions must be at least 6 feet in height)
  • Install physical barriers for checkout stations where possible, otherwise maintain 6 feet distance where not possible
  • Install visual social distancing markers to encourage customers to remain 6 feet apart (e.g., lines outside of the stores if applicable, lines to make payments, lines to use the restroom)
  • Mark rooms and hallways to indicate 6 feet separation

Establish directional aisles to manage customer flow for foot traffic, if possible, to minimize contact (e.g., one-way entrance and exit to the store, one-way aisles). Post clearly visible signage regarding these policies.

Self-serve, unattended buffets, topping bars, and other communal serving areas (such as salad bars) must remain closed. Retailers must eliminate any open free samples or tastings. Self-serve beverage stations must comply with the following guidelines:

  • Hand sanitizer must be made available next to beverage stations and operators must instruct customers to use before pouring beverages
  • Only straws and stirrers individually wrapped in cellophane or paper are allowed
  • Cups and lids must be from single pull dispenser or other method to minimize contact
  • Sweeteners, sugars and creamers must be individual packets
  • Floor markers must be installed to achieve social distancing
  • Use of personal mugs and cups are not allowed
  • Frequent disinfecting of the beverage station must take place, even during busy times

Individual retailers must not allow sampling or application of personal goods (makeup, perfume, lotion) unless they provide single-use applicators or have a no-touch option.

In Phase 3 Step 1, fitting rooms may be open by businesses for which their operation is necessary. Any clothing tried on by a customer must either be quarantined for 24 hours or thoroughly steam cleaned prior to returning to the floor.

In Phase 3 Step 2, fitting rooms may be open for use by all retail businesses.

Stagger staff lunch and break times, regulating max number of people in one place and ensuring at least 6 feet of physical distancing.

Recommended best practices

If the store offers delivery, curbside pickup capabilities, or limited “appointment only shopping,” customers should be encouraged to use those methods before coming into the store.

Other retail stores are encouraged to offer exclusive hours or other accommodations for those in high-risk populations as defined by the CDC.

Contactless payment methods are encouraged.

Retail Businesses: MA COVID-19 Checklist

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