As many grocery retailers race to meet the rapidly rising demand by hiring new employees amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, their corporate teams are simultaneously implementing new procedures to help keep people safer and healthier.
One of the latest measures includes installing large sneeze guards to protect cashiers and customers from spreading germs while completing transactions.
This week, Albertsons, H.E.B. and Kroger announced they will all be installing sneeze guards in the checkout lines at thousands of stores to keep germs at bay.
Whole Foods has already installed sneeze guards to protect customers and team members at the registers of many of its stores, a spokesperson told TODAY Food, and will be continuing to roll them out to all locations nationwide in the coming weeks.
Walmart announced Tuesday it will be building sneeze guards in its pharmacy lanes at both Walmart and Sam's Club locations over the next two to three weeks.
But what exactly is a sneeze guard and can it really help prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Sneeze guards are large shields made of plexiglass that create a physical barrier between people. Social distancing mandates that people stand at least 6 feet away, but completing a financial transaction from a distance makes this nearly impossible. The sneeze guards help protect both cashiers and customers in the event that someone sneezes, coughs or even spits a little while speaking.
Danielle Sarkisian, an emergency room nurse who has been at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey for 14 years, told TODAY that while plexiglass shields aren't approved medical devices, they can help slow the spread of germs.
"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) right now is telling nurses to wear bandanas as a protective barrier. So anything cashiers can use will help protect them because they're within that six-foot difference," Sarkisian said.
Since the plexiglass can stop germs spread through spitting and sneezing, Sarkisian believes it's a productive measure worth taking to protect people who don't have access to medical masks.
"It puts something there to prevent droplets from hitting them in the face. Some places have stopped using baggers — the less people are touching, the better off you're gonna be," Sarkasian said. "These people do a lot and this will help."
When you're not at the register, however, it's important to maintain as much distance as possible from other customers and other workers at the store.
"Just remember that were human beings too and we have feelings and, yeah, just take care of us too 'cause were taking care of them," a grocery store employee told TODAY.
With the average grocery store worker making around $29,000 a year, everyone from cashiers to those who stock the shelves are working overtime to provide basic services that keep cities running and well fed.
"Well, I don't consider myself a hero," Karen, a cashier from New Jersey, told TODAY about working in the front lines of the grocery store, despite the serious risk during a health crisis. "It's our job to make sure that you have what you need. So next time you see your cashier, just say, 'Thank you.' It means a lot."
If you're wondering what to do before heading out to the grocery store, here are some tips to follow to ensure a safer shopping experience.
- Have a plan and create a thorough shopping list so you're not wandering around the store and taking extra time wondering if you should add on various items.
- Leave the kids and elderly relatives at home.
- Make sure to bring wipes and/or hand sanitizer.
- Use your eyes to shop and do not touch products you aren't going to buy.
- Be respectful and don't hoard.