Here’s how Bowling Green grocery stores are handling pandemic safety

People walk into Target in Bowling Green, KY. Target is among the many other stores across Bowling Green that have put up signs informing customers to wear face coverings.

Michael J. Collins

For WKU students, grocery shopping is an unavoidable public interaction with a risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Mackenzie Weber, a fifth-year dance, hospitality management and dietetics major from Nashville, began to take greater caution in how she shops once she returned for the fall semester.

“If I go into a store and I notice unsafe practices, then I won’t go back,” Weber said.

Barren River Health Department reported on Friday 37 new cases of COVID-19 in Warren County.

Since large grocery stores like Meijer, Walmart and Kroger cater to a large number of shoppers, Weber takes precautions in the way she goes about her grocery trips.

“If I know I have to use a cart or a basket, I do bring a Lysol wipe so I can sanitize it,” Weber said. “If I’m buying a lot of packaged food, I will spray or wipe it with a Lysol spray after, but with produce and stuff then obviously I can’t.”

Weber said seeing workers wearing masks and gloves makes her feel more comfortable when shopping, but her own measures help ensure she keeps herself and others safe from transmission.

Weber’s biggest concern comes from people unnecessarily touching products they don’t intend to buy.

“I wish I could encourage everybody to only touch and look at the fruits and vegetables that they really are going to get,” Weber said. “I feel like there’s a lot of people when they’re going to look for that pepper that they need, they might pick up four peppers that someone might eat raw.”

Joe Edwards, assistant store manager at the Kroger on Campbell Lane, said many grocery stores, including his location, have adopted a number of measures to help keep workers and shoppers safe.

“We do require all customers [to wear masks],” Edwards said. “If someone does contract COVID-19, an outside cleaning company comes and cleans … all the high contact areas, produce and pharmacy the same way, but also come upstairs and clean the entire office since this is the general area that everyone uses.”

Kentucky regulations mandate that businesses, including grocery stores, must remain below 50% capacity in order to ensure space for social distancing.

Edwards said customers should be aware of how the number and type of shoppers differ between time and location, and customers may feel safer during less crowded hours of the day.

“In the morning, generally, most people mask up like at least 99% [of the time],” Edwards said. “Our busiest time is 3 to 7, so if you want to come anytime before that or after that, it’s usually when the store’s less crowded.”

Andrew Marshall, store director for Meijer on Westpark Drive, said a number of factors play into whether grocery stores will be busy.

“Weather dictates a lot,” Marshall said. “If it’s a rainy day, you will have more business. Now if it’s 85 and sunny, not as busy because everybody’s out there grilling, Jimmy’s got football practice and John’s got soccer practice and Billy’s got to go play baseball because they can do everything outside.”

Marshall said customers should come as early as possible in the day because stores are most clean in the morning after staff spends the night cleaning.

In regards to mask enforcement, Mar- shall said Meijer and other large groceries do require masks but must make exceptions and cannot turn customers away.

“We require people to wear masks, it’s required [to get] into the building,” Marshall said. “We deal with that on a case-by-case basis, because there are exceptions. I get a lot of questions about disabilities. There’s a lot of folks that will call the store and say, ‘My husband has a breathing problem, am I allowed to come there?’ And the answer is yes because we don’t want to deny people their food, right?”

Jamie Sowder, store manager at the Walmart on Morgantown Road, said grocery stores can only take on so much responsibility when it comes to protecting customers.

“It’s a little bit of personal responsibility,” Sowder said. “I don’t get up on top of anyone. I wear a mask, and if someone’s not wearing a mask, I give them ample space. Things like washing your hands and [using sanitizers] after touching things that you may have in question is what we all have to do personally.”

Michael J. Collins can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mjcollinsnews.