Some grocery stores across Winnipeg are stepping up their safety measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19, asking customer to wait outside to limit the number of people in store, installing hand-washing stations, and creating one-way shopping lanes.
More than a dozen people stood in a generously spaced-out line outside the Safeway on Ness Avenue during Wednesday’s lunch hour, waiting for security guards and store employees to allow them inside to shop.
The line moved quickly, but security maintained a minimum of 30 seconds between customers entering the store to allow entering customers time to grab a pre-sanitized cart and wash up at a hand-washing station just inside the doors.
Despite the long lines and extra precautions, most shoppers were in accommodating spirits Wednesday.
"It's definitely taking more time but right now we have all the time," Cassandra Hill laughed while waiting for her turn to shop.
Hill said she had just come from another grocery store where long waits and mandatory hand-washing were part of the shopping experience. Given all the extra time on her hands, Hill said, the added inconvenience wasn’t too much to shoulder.
"I'm okay with it ... because obviously it's not just the grocery people that need to do their part, it's us as well," Hill said.
Safeway and Sobeys, owned by the same parent company, have also added floor arrows in some locations to designate one-way aisles and avoid shoppers passing each other in close quarters, as well as plexiglass shields to protect cashiers.
A Superstore location on Sargent Avenue had similar measures operating Wednesday afternoon. Shoppers were asked to wait outside as groups were ushered in at staggered intervals to ensure no more than 170 people were in the store at a time, a security guard confirmed.
A handwashing station was available in the vestibule, though signs noted that using the station was not mandatory. While no arrows were in place to direct the flow of shopping, tape markers around the checkouts indicated where shoppers should stand to maintain six feet of separation.
"I think it's great -- I think people are paying attention to cleanliness a little bit more, I think people are paying attention to physical boundaries, so I appreciate it," said Charlene Zielke, waiting outside Superstore on Wednesday afternoon.
Zielke noted the wait times -- only a matter of minutes in her experience -- were a fair price to pay for safety.
"You know what? It is what it is, and as I teach my kids, patience is happy waiting, so let's just use some happy waiting skills," Zielke said with a smile.
A spokesperson for Loblaw said in an email that in addition to current measures, including limiting the amount of customers in-store, installing plexiglass shields where possible, and reducing hours for grocery stores and Shoppers Drug Mart, Loblaw stores also intend to pilot one-way lane traffic in some stores by the end of the week.
While many stores are upping the ante on public safety, the measures at some stores seem less apparent. A Walmart on Empress Street had no lines, no restrictions on the number of people in store, and no hand-washing stations.
The Free Press reached out to Walmart and Sobeys media representatives for comment Wednesday but did not receive a reply by publication time.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.
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Updated on Wednesday, April 1, 2020 at 6:45 PM CDT: Typo fixed.