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New rules for grocers to slow virus’s spread

  • Rochelle Prunty, the general manager at River Valley Co-op in Northampton, explains to customers waiting in line what the new protocol is for social distancing and cleanliness. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mary Witt and Tom Barrup wait in line to get into River Valley Co-op in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gloves at River Valley Co-op at the bulk gravity bins. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Evan Lash, the operations manager at River Valley Co-op, wipes down the store on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Don Pessier, of Florence, shopping at River Valley Co-op Friday. Many people now were wearing masks or face protection of some kind. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Angus Brewer, an employee at River Valley Co-op, washes handles and doors Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Many shoppers at River Valley Co-op in Northampton now are wearing masks or face protection of some kind. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rochelle Prunty, the general manager at River Valley Market in Northampton, explains to customers waiting in line what the new protocol is for social distancing and cleanliness. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Patrons of Big Y World Class Market in Northampton enter, at left, and exit, at right, through separate doors of the main entrance to the store on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. The smaller east entrance, closer to North King Street, is now closed. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Gloves and sanitizer are available to patrons of Big Y World Class Market at the main entrance to the Northampton store. Photographed on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. The smaller east entrance, closer to North King Street, is now closed. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This smaller entrance to Big Y World Class Market in Northampton, closer to North King Street, is now closed. Photographed on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Patrons of Big Y World Class Market in Northampton enter and exit through the main entrance to the store on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. The smaller east entrance, closer to North King Street, is now closed. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 4/8/2020 6:42:32 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Longer lines, mandatory hand washing, one-way aisles and other additional preventative measures against COVID-19 are in local grocery shoppers’ immediate futures as health officials implement new rules aimed at curbing transmission of the deadly disease.

On Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration issued updated guidance to grocery stores across the state that limits the number of customers in grocery stores at one time to 40 percent of the store’s maximum permitted occupancy levels.

Also Tuesday, Merridith O’Leary, Northampton’s public health director, and the Board of Health ordered that all grocery stores, supermarkets and convenience stores must implement customer occupancy limits based off of square-footage, monitor one entry and one exit point and provide markings and implement techniques to encourage proper social distancing, among other changes.

Grocery shoppers in the city may now have to wait six-feet apart from one another in outside lines before being allowed into the store through a single entry point to help prevent indoor crowding. Customers must now wash their hands or use hand sanitizer at provided stations when entering, be given gloves and disinfectant wipes to clean shopping carts and follow ground markings for proper social distancing while inside the store. Employees will be stationed at store entry and exit points to count customers, and high-contact areas must be constantly disinfected.

Baker had already mandated that stores provide alternative hours to seniors, banned the use of reusable grocery bags until further notice and ordered sanitation measures to reduce COVID-19 exposure.

Some stores in the city, such as River Valley Co-op on North King Street, had already taken precautionary measures to help protect staff and customers alike from COVID-19. As early as last Tuesday, the market had set up a hand-washing station at the front of the store, provided gloves to customers, reduced its hours, marked the floors for proper social distancing, installed plexiglass shielding at registers and slowed the flow of people into the store to prevent crowding, among other changes. The store also started curb-side grocery pickup for seniors and the immunocompromised.

At Stop & Shop many of the same precautions have been taken, but face shields have been distributed to workers and KN95 masks are in the process of being procured, said company spokeswoman Maura O’Brien.

“We have already delivered thousands of these masks to our associ ates across the Northeast, and we’re worki ng swiftly to provide for all associates in western Massachusetts by early next week,” O’Brien said.

Extra sanitation

Last week, Rochelle Prunty, general manager of River Valley Co-op, stood outside of the store and talked to customers waiting in line about the new protocol at River-Valley Co-op.

“We just want to smooth over the changes and have people feel like ‘It’s OK you didn’t know this before you got here,’” said Prunty. “It’s all new for all of us and we’re all just working together to do the best that we can.”

Along with these measures, the store also spent $10,000 on a nontoxic electrostatic disinfecting treatment called EnviroShield Endure, which was sprayed across the entire building and continuously breaks down viruses and bacteria for up to six months, according to Adam Wilson, president of JAN-PRO of Western Massachusetts, the company that makes the disinfectant.

Wilson said a machine shoots out proprietary solutions of chemicals and gives them a negative electrical charge, enabling the treatments to “wrap around” hard-to-clean objects and surfaces more thoroughly than a manual disinfectant. At River-Valley Co-op, Wilson said his company went in after-hours on March 24 and used one solution that disinfected the store as well as another that applied the longer-term disinfectant layer. He said the company has seen much more interest in the product from businesses in the area recently.

Prunty said that she was trying to get ahead on extra sanitation when the coronavirus outbreak started to ramp up. Once she realized that the disinfectant the store ended up using keeps its efficacy for a longer period of time, she jumped on the opportunity.

“Taking a lot of the risk out of a lot of the hard surfaces … seemed well-worth the investment,” Prunty said. The store is still constantly disinfecting high-contact areas.

Kathleen Drummond works at River Valley Co-op as the store’s wellness team lead coordinator and is also a steward with UFCW Local 1459, the store’s employee union. She said the union and management negotiated an extra $2 per hour for employees working in the store. Drummond said the co-op donated 20,000 paid hours to the employee leave bank for COVID-19 related needs, though employees will have to exhaust their federal and personal sick leave first.

“I’ve never been more grateful to work where I work. Management, staff and customers have been wonderful throughout this whole thing,” Drummond said. “I feel really lucky.”

Mary Witt of Florence visited River Valley Co-op last week to buy salmon, vegetables and fruit for her friend, who is a senior citizen, as well as groceries for herself. Witt said it was the first time she’s had to wait in line to enter the store. She said she agreed with the city’s recent order regulating grocery stores.

“We can only do our best to try to take all of the right steps,” Witt said. “For lack of medical and health knowledge for each of us, we have to listen to what the people are involved directly are recommending.”

Among other preventive measures, Big Y World Class Market has encouraged employees to wear masks and gloves, according to its website, and will also close all of its stores on Easter Sunday and the following Monday to give employees a break. Florence resident Leslie Johnson went to the Big Y in Northampton on Monday and said she noticed social distancing markers on the ground and plexiglass near cashiers.

“They want to prevent the spread of the disease as best they can,” Johnson said of the city’s new orders. “So why not?”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com. Gazette Photo Editor Carol Lollis contributed reporting.


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