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How do you keep social distance in a crowded grocery store?

If you've been in a grocery store over the past couple of weeks, you've noticed how difficult it is to maintain the six-foot distance health officials recommend people keep to curb the spread of novel coronavirus.

With sometimes hundreds of consumers crowding into stores at a time, reaching over one another for apples and standing cart-by-cart in checkout lanes, consumers have begun to express concern.

Shopper Frank Turbe of Lancaster visited Wegmans on Losson Road in Depew this week and was dismayed by what he saw.

"Standing in line, I didn’t see any customers trying to distance themselves," he said. "In the line next to me, a senior man was close-talking with the couple behind him in line."

The scene was the same at stores up and down Transit Road, he said. At BJ's Wholesale Club in Clarence, bunches of customers mingled closely and made no effort to keep a distance – until they saw Turbe wearing a mask, "which seems to put off some people, understandably," he said.

"I understand that being able to buy food is an essential service, but something needs to change in the way people are going out to buy goods," Turbe, 37, said.

Getting customers to comply with social distancing guidelines has been difficult for local and federal health officials, despite taking such drastic measures as shutting down entire industries. But stores are using a variety of measures to encourage social distancing.

Tops Markets posted signs throughout its stores and pharmacies urging shoppers to give each other space.

"For the health and well-being of other customers and associates, please follow the CDC recommended distancing guidelines," one sign reads. "Please keep the length of two grocery carts between each person."

Wegmans rolled out new procedures Thursday.

"We’re doing our best to keep our employees and customers safe and healthy in these uncertain times," said Michele Mehaffy, a Wegmans spokesperson.

At the register, customers are asked to wait behind a red line until the customer ahead of them has finished paying. Those paying cash are asked to place their payment on the credit terminal counter instead of in the cashier's hand. The cashier will put the customer's receipt in the bag, sanitize the area, then allow the next person in line to load their groceries onto the conveyor belt.

The grocer is also trying to open just every other checkout lane when possible and has put signage at the front of the store urging customers to keep their distance from one another.

The importance of social distancing becomes clearer as the list of places exposed to Covid-19 grows. People with coronavirus have visited Walmarts in Hamburg and North Tonawanda, Aldi stores in Depew and the Town of Tonawanda, two Tops stores in Amherst, and Wegmans stores in Amherst and Hamburg, among other retailers.

Turbe has made an effort to minimize his trips to stores. When he does go, he wears a mask and gloves ("To protect myself and others," he said) and disinfects his shopping cart before and after using it.

"Unfortunately, I really haven’t seen anybody else doing this," Turbe said.

Why isn't Wegmans offering senior hours?

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