Starting Monday, retail stores in North Carolina are required to take additional steps to limit the risk of community transmission during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
That comes by order of Gov. Roy Cooper, who announced the new rules in a news conference last week.
According to Executive Order 131, any currently open store that sells something — whether it’s grocery stores, big box retailers, hardware stores, ABC stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, car dealerships, etc. — must follow the new social-distancing and cleaning mandates or they can’t stay open.
The new rules went into effect at 5 p.m. Monday, April 13, and are in effect for 30 days (unless repealed or extended). These orders are statewide, taking precedence over any local rules already established.
And what do you do if you visit a store (or work for one) that isn’t following the rules? The old “if you see something, say something” rule applies here.
“If someone feels a business is operating unsafely or in violation of the executive order, they should call their local law enforcement agency,” a spokesperson with the DHHS COVID-19 Joint Information Center told The News & Observer.
Here’s a breakdown of the new rules and what they mean for you.
Stores are going to have fewer people inside
The new executive order limits the number of people allowed inside stores at one time, which means fewer people crowding the aisles, but also, if you go at a busy time, you may have to wait in line outside.
Some stores were already doing this — Target, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans and Harris Teeter were already placing limits on occupancy. But now there are concrete rules requiring the metering of occupants and guidelines for how occupancy must be calculated.
▪ The new executive order dictates that stores are limited to 20% of the stated fire capacity, or they can have 5 persons per 1,000 square feet. This is called Emergency Maximum Occupancy.
▪ Stores must have personnel at the door to limit access once the store has Emergency Maximum Occupancy.
▪ When Emergency Maximum Occupancy is reached and people are lined up outside stores, the store must clearly mark lines six feet apart where people can stand while waiting.
Once you’re inside, stay far apart
The CDC has repeatedly said the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to maintain a distance from others. If you must go out, stay six feet apart from other people.
But anyone who has been inside a store lately knows that not everyone follows that rule. (Note: Experts say it’s OK to quickly pass others in an aisle, but you should not linger near other shoppers or workers, contemplating which cut of meat looks better. Likewise, if someone is looking at the chicken, stand back and let them finish before crowding in.)
Gov. Cooper’s new order attempts to make sure proper distancing is happening.
▪ Stores must now mark six-foot distances at any place where people must wait in a line, such as at a checkout stand, pharmacy drop-off and pick-up areas, or deli counters.
Many stores have already done this, voluntarily. It’s now required.
▪ It’s also required now that retail establishments enforce social-distancing in these areas, to make sure people are actually standing on the lines to keep them separated. When you see a line on the floor, that’s where you stand.
Stores should be kept clean
One of the first moves retail stores made when all of this started was to announce enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures, particularly on high-touch areas like doors, shopping cart handles and key-pads.
One trouble spot in most stores continues to be cart handles, which in reality, despite stated store policies, are sometimes cleaned and sometimes not. (Always carry your own wipes and hand sanitizer, but doctors say don’t wear gloves.)
The governor’s order now makes this extra cleaning mandatory.
Stores must follow these rules, or close
▪ The executive order states that if stores that have already been deemed “essential” are unable to meet these requirements, they can’t stay open. And stores that were not previously allowed to be open under previous executive orders, can’t reopen now by instating these guidelines.
Some changes that are encouraged, but not required
Executive Order 131 also “strongly encouraged” retail establishments to take further steps to protect employees and shoppers. So you may or may not see these extra actions at the stores you visit.
▪ Companies are encouraged to provide cloth face masks for employees to wear, especially if they work in jobs where they can’t always stay six feet away from others.
Many retailers, such as Target, Aldi, Lidl, Carlie C’s IGA and BJ’s Warehouse have already stated that they are trying to secure masks for employees. This has taken time because of supply issues. In some stores, such as Food Lion, some employees have been provided plastic face shields.
▪ Companies should instruct employees to stay home if they are sick.
Again, most employers have at least already stated that they are telling their employees to do this.
▪ Companies should also enforce the six-foot social distancing standards behind the scenes in employee-only areas.
For clean hands:
▪ Stores are encouraged to provide hand sanitizer for shoppers and employees.
Because of supply issues, this is hit or miss in most stores. Carry your own hand sanitizer if you have it, or carry some type of disinfecting wipes with you. (Doctors and scientists recommend that you do not wear gloves to shop.)
▪ Stores are encouraged to designate some special shopping hours for seniors and for others in the CDC-designated at-risk groups.
For more social distancing:
▪ Stores are encouraged to post signs throughout reminding customers about social distancing.
▪ ”High volume” retail stores (grocery stores, big box stores, pharmacies) are encouraged to mark designated entry and exit locations.
▪ These same “high volume” stores are also encouraged to provide “routing” through stores to reduce the amount of time customers are close together.
One suggestion Gov. Cooper mentioned in his press conference on April 9, was marking aisles with “one way” stickers, to keep everything moving in the same direction in aisles. The Publix grocery chain announced last week that they are putting directional signs in their grocery aisles.
▪ Stores are also encouraged to install plastic shields at areas where customers and employees must interact, such as at checkout and pharmacy stands. Again, many stores have already installed these shields or have stated they are in the process of doing so.
▪ Stores are also encouraged to implement online (or telephone) ordering and payment of groceries and supplies, and provide home delivery of groceries or a curbside pickup option. Nearly all grocery stores (and some other retailers) already have this option in place. If you need help on how to do that, we have more info on that at newsobserver.com.