On the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bay Area grocery store workers worried about safety

As the shelter-in-place response to COVID-19 completes another week, the continued threat to those on the front lines lives on. Grocery workers are feeling the strain of balancing the public’s need for food, versus their family’s need to remain safe.

The line outside the Safeway store on Hamilton Avenue in the Willow Glen section of San Jose isn’t due to popularity, but instead safety. Social distancing prompted managers to control the number of customers inside, to keep everyone virus-free.
“Brave new world. It is interesting and frustrating,” said customer Chris Lucero, as he stood at the back of the line which stretched the length of the store.
Managers said only 180 people can be inside, to lessen the chance of exposure to the coronavirus.
“Grocery workers are probably gonna be at a higher risk than people who are working from home for very obvious reasons. And that is because they come in contact will all kinds of various people during their shift,” said Internal Medicine Specialist Dr. Runjhun Misra.
At Zanotto’s Willow Glen Market, five miles southeast of Safeway, the threat posed by working so close to the general public is always at the forefront of employee’s minds.
“I have family members [who] are at risk. So I’m trying to do everything I can to prevent bringing it home. And limited contact with the customers is preferred,” said front end manager Craig Thompson, as he worked a check-out lane.
Managers said no more than 60 shoppers are allowed inside this store at a time. Additionally, a bottle of sanitizer, not a greeter, waits at the front door. Splatter guards shield those working at registers, and workers are masked and encouraged to change their latex gloves frequently.
“It’s just a different way of doing business. But I think the amazing this is our customers know we’re here for them,” said Zanotto’s marketing Vice President Khaija Zanotto. Added Dr. Mistra, “All these measures are definitely going to help.”
For all market employees meeting the need to fill stomachs, they are also making sure to take steps not to spread or catch a potentially deadly virus.
“If this is what we gotta do to keep people from dying and getting severely sick, then I’m all in,” said Lucero.
Health experts say currently, the threat of COVID-19 being transmitted from items purchased at a grocery store is extremely low. But they strongly suggest washing your hands when returning home from the store, and again before eating.