Gov. Baker taking steps to prevent food store overcrowding

Boston Statehouse

Customers wear face protection in a supermarket in Vienna. (Photo by ROLAND SCHLAGER/APA/AFP via Getty Images)

BOSTON (SHNS) – The Baker administration plans to call for the number of people allowed in a grocery store at one time to be limited to 40 percent of the store’s capacity in an additional step aimed at helping people stay safe while out of their homes, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Tuesday.

The move follows a March 25 order imposing new distancing and sanitation requirements for grocery stores and pharmacies, which are among the few businesses that have been deemed essential by the administration and are allowed to remain open during the ongoing state of emergency.

“We will be issuing, later today, further guidance relative to grocery stores so there’s more of a uniform distribution across our communities about how to provide a safe environment for customers as well as the workforce at our groceries,” Polito said, responding to a reporter’s question at the tail end of Gov. Charlie Baker’s daily update on the state’s COVID-19 response efforts.

“We are issuing guidance that will say 40 percent of the occupancy — and that occupancy will include both employees and customers — as the number to be enforced by local boards of health relative to the number of people in store to be able to access the goods and the necessities they need for the trip to the groceries and then to return home,” she said.

With the number of COVID-19 cases and associated demand for hospital beds, equipment and services anticipated to peak in Massachusetts sometime this month, state and local officials have been reiterating their message about the importance of limiting trips outside the home and maintaining physical distance from others.

The Department of Public Health’s March 25 order required grocery stores and pharmacies to set aside at least one hour per day for adults age 60 and older to shop; close any self-service food stations; mark “social distancing lines” beginning 6 feet away from checkouts; provide alternative assignments for employees who are at high risk of contracting the coronavirus; instruct employees who are sick to stay home; and offer sanitation options, like hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, to clean shopping carts and other frequently touched surfaces.

Municipal governments, too, have had their eyes on supermarkets and other food stores.

The Abington Board of Health and town health agent on Monday recommended a suite of new safety and social distancing measures for the businesses that remain open there, including limiting the number of customers allowed in to roughly 30 percent of a store’s capacity, adding signage to help customers and employees maintain safe distancing, asking workers to perform health checks before reporting to their shifts, and closing stores early or at specific times to allow more time for cleaning and restocking.

In a weekend COVID-19 update aimed at seniors and their families, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone said that city staff had been “working closely with local grocers to support social distancing for shoppers.”

The Market Basket in Somerville last week began limiting the number of shoppers to 90 at a time.

“The store manager reports that people are taking well to store limiting, and it allows staff to feel more at ease,” the city’s update said. “It’s currently about a 20-minute wait outside, and there have been no complaints from customers. On Friday, they added someone outside to help keep people in line at a safe distance.”

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