On Monday, March 30, CStore Decisions hosted a webinar titled, “What Will You Do If Your Store Is Contaminated By COVID-19?” where a panel of experts discussed best practices in operations and sanitation during the pandemic.
Moderator John Lofstock, editor of CStore Decisions Group, was joined by featured speakers Scott Apter, president of Apter Industries; Brian Unrue, vice president of Clark’s Pump-N-Shop; Dean Kazinci, township manager, town of Teaneck, N.J.; and Ken Katter, health officer, Teaneck Department of Health and Human Services. Teaneck, N.J. is currently the area in the country that at press time had been the hardest hit by COVID-19, with the most cases of the virus per capita at 300 presumptive positive cases out of 41,000 people.
Katter urged listeners to follow the directions given by local governments and health professionals, such as social distancing and shelter-in-place rules, washing hands often with soap and warm water, and sanitizing. “Social distancing is asking people to stay six feet or more apart,” he clarified.
To calm cashier concerns, Clark’s Pump-N-Shop is putting six-feet of tape on the floor to help enforce social distancing rules and promoting its drive-throughs as an option for customers who want to avoid entering stores. It is also using a private Facebook app to help respond to cashier concerns, as well as a group text with managers. The chain is also the upping wages of frontline workers, among other proactive steps.
Apter Industries’ Apter gave advice on disinfecting and cleaning touchpoints from door handles to keyboards. “If you’re wiping off the handles all the time; if you’re making sure you wash, rinse and sanitize all the things that you’re using including utensils; if you do that constantly, you’re certainly going to bring the level of the virus down,” he advised.
Teaneck’s Kazinci noted stores need to follow rules set out by executive orders. “We are encouraging all the stores to consider reserving certain hours to senior citizens and other high-risk populations, and to not permit staff who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 such as a fever, dry cough, shortness of breath (to come to work). If they come to work, they need to be told to stay home. Train employees on ideal hygiene practices, including proper hand washing; increase the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing as (outlined by) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of all hard surfaces.”
Best Practices for Symptomatic Employees
If an employee falls sick with coronavirus, Clark’s Pump-N-Shop’s Unrue noted, it’s likely that person has had some contact with most of the store He said in that situation he would plan to quarantine that store’s personnel for 14 days, while they shut down the store for a complete steam clean and sanitization of the entire building.”
C-store owners should consider supplying staff with personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, Katter noted. “If an employee is sick, as an employer, you should send them home,” he advised.
People who are symptomatic do not necessarily have COVID-19. Some people may have allergies or the flu or pneumonia. Regardless, if someone is symptomatic, they should go home, the experts advised. If someone tests positive for coronavirus then each employee they’ve had direct contact with should be sent home to quarantine.
It can take several days or a week to learn that someone has tested positive. During that time, the virus could have spread to store surfaces.
“We’re not really sure exactly how long this virus can live on what surfaces,” Katter said. “At minimum, I think that you should clean the area that that (sick) employee works in. Anybody that’s in direct contact that’s been identified as a direct contact should be home under self-quarantine for 14 days (even if they’re not symptomatic).”
But Katter stopped short of advising that supermarkets or convenience stores always need to close if an employee is sick. The more a facility with a presumptive positive case of coronavirus closes down and cleans the more benefit, but it won’t always be practical in every instance. Instead, Katter recommended looking at the area of the store the person worked in, and the other employees that person came into contact with.
“I think we have to start taking the person who is sick and start building outward from there before just shutting down the entire facility,” Katter said. “It may not be necessary to shut the entire facility. I don’t know how in the supermarket you would go around and disinfect every can of soup and every item. I don’t see that as possible. The main thing is person to person — that is the main cause of infection.”
Unrue has closed all grab-and-go food options that customers would serve themselves and is now only offering food that is served by store employees at his stores and has closed dining rooms.
In New Jersey, restaurants are only allowed to offer takeout at this time. As far as a transfer of the virus through packaging or other inanimate objects, much remains unknown.
“I don’t think anybody really knows for sure how it would be passed; how many organisms or what have you would need to be on an inanimate object to be passed along,” Katter said.
He recommended that best practices regardless of COVID-19 are to wash grab-and-go fruit, washing hands before eating and avoiding touching your face.
Any package that’s touched, there exists a potential risk, but one potentially low, according to Katter who noted, “the main path of transmission is person to person through droplets from your face, your mouth, your nose and what have you. So by limiting that, that and washing hands and whatnot, that is the main way to avoid it, and to wash surfaces.”
Other Key Takeaways For C-Store Retailers Include:
- Consider adding markings in your stores where people need to stand to ensure those spaces are six feet apart.
- Eliminate foods that are put out on display and reduce the self-serve food stations.
- Post signage to encourage customers to remain six feet apart.
- Install pieces of plexiglass that separates the customers from the employees.
- Consider converting aisles into one-way aisles to help enforce social distancing.
There’s still time to listen to the full webinar here: