ALBANY — Leaders of New York's grocery store industry say they want consumers to know the food supply chain is responding to the demand for a wide assortment of products amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The store operators, meanwhile, are taking a variety of steps to encourage social distancing. Some are providing senior citizens and others with compromised immune systems to have grocery aisles to themselves in the first opening hour of the day.
"The supply chain is healthy and we are working around the clock to ensure not only the customer is safe but our workers are safe," said Michael Durant, president of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State. "We need to have a shared responsibility."
In New York, supermarkets are among a limited number of businesses that have been deemed "essential" by the state.
Thus, they can continue to operate while restaurants, bars, bowling alley, movie theaters and a host of other venues have been closed in response to a pandemic that so far has taken the lives of 1,550 New Yorkers.
"We are taking essential steps in working to flatten the COVID-19 curve in each of the communities we serve," Durant said. "These steps start at our front doors and end as our customers are checking out."
Mona Golub, vice president of customer relations for Price Chopper, a Schenectady-based chain with dozens of supermarkets across the upstate region, said customers will soon be seeing Plexiglas shields separating shoppers in the checkout line from cashiers.
Stepped-up sanitary measures have also been put into effect with workers frequently disinfecting often-touched keypads, shopping carts, lottery machines and other areas throughout the stores.
"We have lines on the floor to help remind people how long six feet is so they can stand back from the person in front of them," she said.
Price Chopper has also beefed up its work force. Golub said it was important to her company to respond to the scheduling needs of workers juggling their employment and parental responsibilities, following the abrupt closure of schools throughout the state.
Durant said stores have closed all in-store cafes and seating areas as part of density-reduction efforts.
An increasing number of shoppers, he said, have turned to using online ordering and store-to-home delivery options.
"What we really need is for customers to understand that grocery stores are open and they are going to remain open,” Durant said. "There is no food shortage. Shop as you would normally shop — just as you would have if it was still February."
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.