LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kroger Co, Walmart Inc, Albertsons and other grocery sellers are installing plexiglass partitions at checkout counters to protect cashiers from the highly contagious coronavirus.
The shields are designed to block virus-containing droplets - released by coughing, sneezing and speaking - that might otherwise hit cashiers, who interact with dozens of customers during their shifts.
Supermarkets are among the essential businesses that will continue to operate even in places under strict stay at home orders during the coronavirus outbreak, which has so far sickened nearly 160,000 people and killed over 2,900 in the United States.
Kroger - the largest U.S. supermarket chain with nearly 2,800 stores including Ralphs, Harris Teeter and Food 4 Less - is installing the partitions at all cash registers, pharmacy counters and Starbucks kiosks.
The partitions and floor decals telling customers how far apart to stand while they wait to pay will “promote physical distancing” in checkout lanes, the company said in a statement.
Albertsons Companies said it has almost completed the work at its more than 2,200 stores, including Safeway, Jewel-Osco and Acme.
“This is an extra step to protect our associates who are in constant contact with the public and provide our customers with extra reassurance as well,” Albertsons’ Chief Executive Vivek Sankaran said.
Walmart, which sells more groceries than any other U.S. retailer through its roughly 4,800 U.S. stores, said in a tweet that the effort is part of “finding new ways to help bring peace of mind to everyone who steps through our doors.”
Amazon.com Inc’s Whole Foods and regional supermarket chains like Publix, Meijer, Winn-Dixie, Giant Eagle and H-E-B also are putting up the protective barriers.
The plexiglass partitions should help reduce virus exposure to front-line grocery store cashiers, said Nick Eastwood, president of Always Food Safe, a food-safety training provider.
Grocers also are closing self-service bars for soup, salad and other products; stepping up cleaning and disinfecting of stores, bathrooms and carts; and offering special hours for seniors and other shoppers who are most at risk of serious complications from COVID-19 infections.
The coronavirus is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, producing virus-containing droplets that make their way into the mouths or noses of uninfected people, or by touching a surface with virus on it and then touching your face, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Berkrot