Retail stores throughout Manitoba are putting up plexiglass shields to protect cashiers and customers from possibly infecting each other with the novel coronavirus.
The shields -- they include a small hole through which customers pay cashiers -- are the latest precautions taken by retailers who face a dilemma: how can they serve the public while still practising social distancing?
Some stores are restricting the number of people allowed in the store at one time, shortening business hours, marking lines on the floor to encourage social distancing and doubling down on additional sanitizing procedures.
The sudden demand for the shields has been met by local manufacturers.
John Wardrope, the owner of local custom fabricator company Acryl Designs, said the company has never previously made a cashier shield but the demand has given their business a new purpose.
"What’s happening is that all the major food chains, all the pharmacies, anywhere where there’s an interaction at a counter, needs some sort of barrier," Wardrope said.
Wardrope sent a client a virtual prototype for a cashier barrier Thursday. In the five days since, the company has made 2,500 guards for different retailers across Canada.
"We’ve shipped them as far as B.C. Sunday night, we started Friday, and we’ve gone non-stop."
The prototype itself has also been sent out of the province, according to Wardrope, to be used by other manufacturers. Shields have also been sent to Alberta, with plans to have shields delivered to Saskatchewan and Manitoba by Thursday.
The company usually has a staff of four, but the staff has jumped to ten.
Despite the extra demand and the demands of social distancing in his workplace, Wardrope said morale is high among staff and called the opportunity to provide a safety resource "inspiring."
"In every day going to work, you go to work and you do things, and there’s a certain value in it and you’re helping people out, but if you’re creating these guards in this particular situation, you’re creating help for commerce to still take place," he said.
"So you’re actually helping out in keeping the system going… because of the guards. People feel safe, they feel secure."
The shields are in demand from smaller retailers as well as large retail chains.
Rajan Varma, the manager of local grocer Dino’s Grocery Mart, said the store decided to take action immediately after the province declared a state of emergency on March 20.
"I was thinking about it ahead of time because of how it was getting, and I wanted to protect our cashiers, so the same day we installed shields around the cashiers, and we put some barricades so customers stay away from each other," Varma said.
He sought the help of a local handyman he knew, and within hours, guards made of wood and glass had been put up.
"We didn’t try to make it fancy right now, we just (wanted) something to work with," Varma said.
The store will consider leaving the guards up even after the virus has passed, Varma said, to "keep (their) cashiers protected."
"I’m thinking to keep it permanently there, it’s not temporary, because in a way, it’s a good idea to have this kind of thing in front of the cashier," Varma said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Monday, March 23, 2020 at 7:57 PM CDT: adds new photos