After baristas and customers across the country raised concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Starbucks announced plans to temporarily close most of its cafe lobbies and limit its service to drive-thru and delivery only for the next two weeks.
On Sunday, March 15, the chain announced that it would be closing all sitting areas in its cafes, but was still permitting walk-in and to-go mobile orders at many locations.
The latest announcement, which was made Friday, comes after thousands of people around the country signed an online petition, urging the company to close stores as coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, continue to spread across the nation. The petition also encouraged the coffee chain to continue paying its staff, many of whom are hourly and have a limited amount of paid time off when stores are closed.
Aniya Johnson, a Starbucks barista based in Philadelphia, created the petition shortly after learning that a Starbucks in Seattle shut down when an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
"Once I found out that a partner (a Starbucks employee) was diagnosed, my colleagues and I became concerned and began to think how this employee could've had the virus for two weeks and not known and passed it to customers," she told TODAY Food. "No one really understood why we were still coming to work."
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Like many of her coworkers, Johnson was concerned that the increased sanitary precautions in Starbucks cafes weren't enough to protect employees from being exposed to the virus.
"Starbucks locations are often located near hospitals and schools, and we had nurses and doctors coming into stores with no way of knowing what they were dealing with at work," she said. "Because of this, the store was a breeding ground for all types of germs and bacteria. There's only so much wiping down you can do."
The Pennsylvania resident is currently on a two-week leave from her job and is receiving catastrophe pay, a benefit Starbucks started extending to employees who had been exposed to the virus, were sick or who already had underlying health issues.
"I was able to get catastrophe pay and be off for two weeks because I have an underlying health condition. But the petition wasn't just about me. It was about those Starbucks employees who don't have that option available to them," Johnson continued.
Johnson's petition, which she posted about 10 days ago, quickly gained traction, with people from all across the country sharing their motivation for signing. It currently has over 36,000 signatures.
"Ninety percent of the customers that came into my store today were over the age of 60, aka the highest risk group! This is about ALL OF US, and we need to take this seriously NOW before it escalates further! We shouldn't have to choose between income and our safety, and the safety of everyone around us!" one person, who claimed to be an employee of the chain, wrote.
"My partner is a Starbucks employee, and I know how much he loves his job, his coworkers, and his customers. There is no reason to expose him and all of them to the risk of Coronavirus for the sake of store-bought coffee," another commented.
When contacted by TODAY on Friday morning, a representative for Starbucks would not comment on the petition itself, but said a major announcement would be coming later.
On Friday evening, Rossann Williams, executive vice president and president of Starbucks U.S. and Canada, announced that, effective Saturday, March 21, the company would be closing access to its cafes for the next two weeks and only operate via drive-thru or delivery services. Though about 60% of the coffee chain's U.S. locations have drive-thrus, thousands of stores will still be closed for business entirely. Customers will be able to use the Starbucks app to check which locations are still in operation over the coming days.
Most notably for Johnson, all Starbucks employees will be paid for the next 30 days, whether they choose to come to work or stay at home.
"This is a crisis that is moving quickly, and we need to stay ahead of it and do our part, recognizing this is often confusing, frustrating and dynamic,"Williams said a statement. "Some exceptions will be made for those cafés serving in or around hospitals and health care centers in our efforts to serve frontline responders and health care workers."
Johnson's petition was closed on Sunday evening.
A representative for the chain told TODAY that Starbucks locations in grocery stores will also remain open.