Washoe County Health District says it cannot currently enforce the state-issued guidelines
For many folks, the place where social distancing is most challenging — where 6 feet can quickly become thisclose — is likely the grocery store, not least because grocery shopping (unlike golfing) is an essential activity.
As part of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s March 20 order covering business operations in Nevada, health officials have issued safety guidelines for grocery and convenience stores to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection for workers and customers.
The guidelines encompass social distancing, hand washing, product stocking, store cleaning, checkout stands, sick workers, hazard education, face coverings and more.
By understanding the general scope of the regulations, folks can better judge how well grocery and convenience stores are following the public health recommendations.
An overview of the safety recommendations
Here are some salient points from the grocery store guidelines:
- Ensure all workers wear gloves and cloth face coverings
- Educate employees about safety best practices
- Limit customers in store to 20 to 30 percent of capacity
- Install easy-to-read signs informing customers of social distancing practices
- Install hand sanitizer dispensers at store entrance and key locations inside
- Mark 6-foot increments on the floor to make social distancing easier
- Require workers to stay at least 6 feet from customers and colleagues
- Consider creating one-way aisles to promote social distancing
- Eliminate self-serve foods
- Require effective hand washing by employees every 30 minutes
- Make sure sick employees do not come to work
- Consider installing sneeze shields at check stands
- Allow only single-use bags for groceries, not reusable bags
- Sanitize frequently touched surfaces throughout the day and deep clean at night
- * Develop policies to address workers or customers who appear ill or are not following social distancing
Stores (and customers) are doing a mixed job
During the last week, Reno Gazette Journal employees took note of the safety practices (or lack thereof) they observed during grocery and convenience store trips.
The result of our (admittedly non-scientific) reconnaissance? Stores could be doing better.
Floors marked with 6-foot increments for social distancing and signs announcing social distancing measures were most common. Sneeze guards or plastic partitions were installed at several stores, including two convenience stores.
A handful of stores were variously sanitizing carts, offering hand sanitizer at the entrance, limiting the number of customers at any one time, playing announcements reminding customers of social distancing or taking employee temperatures before work.
Where stores performed the worst: inconsistent use of masks and gloves among employees and suppliers. One gas station store in Northwest Reno had no apparent safety precautions: no floor markings, no signs, no sneeze guards, nothing.
Not that many grocery customers were doing much better as they shopped without masks, brushing by each other in the aisles, fingering and rejecting products (including produce), and generally forgetting (or ignoring) that 6 feet means 6 feet.
Guidelines cannot currently be enforced
Despite the importance of the grocery guidelines, stores cannot currently be compelled to follow them, although they can be urged to do so, according to Kevin Dick, district health officer for the Washoe County Health District.
“I don’t believe that those are regulations that we have the ability to enforce,” he said, “but we will certainly be communicating and recommending in the field practices that we want to see people utilizing to reduce the potential for spread and exposure in those settings.”
Dick later added that he had asked the governor’s office to change the grocery guidelines “from just guidance to requirements” after receiving feedback on safety practices at essential businesses, including concerns voiced by members of the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce.
Still, with Health District staff stretched thin fighting the coronavirus, consumers should probably rely on their own observations and judgment when deciding where to grocery shop.
“Don’t expect the Health District to be the entity that’s out there enforcing all of the directives at all the businesses that are in our community,” Dick said.
In other words, caveat emptor.
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