New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo yesterday extended the state’s coronavirus lockdown until at least May 15, as New York — and New York City, in particular — continued to be the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States.
In addition, Cuomo expanded his executive order requiring masks in public in New York State, requiring people to wear something that covers their noses and mouths when in places where social distancing is not possible. Many supermarkets in New York had already been requesting that customers wear masks when in stores. The stricter requirement goes into effect at 8 p.m. Friday.
For independent supermarkets in New York — which are frequently smaller neighborhood stores with narrow aisles in close quarters — COVID-19 has created a number of challenges, including lack of employees and an uncertain supply of goods due to the pandemic. The daily restocking of shelves due to the unprecedented demand from customers has taken a toll on these supermarkets and their employees.
Port Washington, N.Y.-based Associated Supermarket Group (ASG), which serves more than 220 independently owned, mostly urban supermarkets in the New York Tri-State area under banners including Associated, Compare, Met Foods, Met Fresh and Pioneer, noted that supermarket owners along with their employees are on the front lines, opening their doors every day to keep food and other necessities accessible to their customers, while complying with newly established regulations, such as social distancing and overcrowding.
To alleviate some of those challenges, ASG supermarket owners have been asking the public’s cooperation to shop safely.
“Most customers are taking precautions by covering their faces, shopping with one or two people at most, and maintaining a safe social distance between other customers when inside the stores,” said Bill Fani, owner of Met Foods and The Village Barn supermarkets in Staten Island and Queens. “But we still need public cooperation and mindfulness that our supermarkets are smaller, and we need to protect our employees in order to continue to operate during this crisis. We are asking that people cover their mouth and nose when shopping, have patience to come into the store and to discard of their gloves and masks in the proper receptacles. Our employees should not have to increase their exposure because of customers littering their used personal protective equipment.”
Customers observe social distancing as they line up at an Associated supermarket in Queens, N.Y.
Independent supermarkets are taking steps and protocols to implement the CDC’s and New York State’s recommendations to ensure the public and their employees stay safe, including social distancing, crowd control, providing masks and gloves to their employees, installing plexiglass at register areas and professionally sanitizing the premises with frequency.
“Many of the stores we serve are stepping up their hygiene and sanitation efforts to hospital-grade sterilizations,” said Joe Garcia, president and CEO of Associated Supermarket Group, “and the investment is a significant one for these small businesses. Public collaboration is needed with proper hygiene and discipline so that we can continue to support the stores with retail services and solutions to operate safely while fighting the silent enemy, COVID- 19.”
ASG has arranged for supermarkets in its network to have access to PPE for their employees, in addition to sneeze guards for registers and proper social distancing signage. In addition, its main supplier, C&S Wholesale Grocers, has adapted a no-contact delivery system.
Health officials report more than 214,800 cases of the coronavirus in New York, with more than 14,000 deaths. Across the country, nearly 640,300 cases of COVID-19 have been reported and about 31,015 people have died.
While New York has extended its lockdown, nationally other states have been given the go-ahead by the federal government to reopen business in their states by May 1 as long as local health considerations allow. On April 16, President Trump announced guidelines for “Opening Up America Again,” which outlined steps designed to help state and local officials when “reopening their economies, getting people back to work, and continuing to protect American lives.”
For our most up-to-date coverage, visit the coronavirus homepage.