Tarik Beaulieu

(Fort Mill, S.C.) — Millions of Americans across the U.S. have been laid off of work due to the outbreak of COVID-19, but for many grocery workers there is high demand.

While many businesses and retail stores have either temporarily closed or switched to online operations, grocery stores have remained open and employees have been asked to put themselves at risk to exposure of the virus.

Erek Ortiz, an employee at Food Lion in Fort Mill, said the store has taken a number of measures to provide service while remaining safe.

“After every customer we’re wiping down the belts, we’re supposed to be keeping everyone six feet apart outside,” said Ortiz. “We have a strict enter and exit where only people can enter from one side and people could exit from the other; and we have just been trying to keep it as sanitary as possible.”

Food Lion has also placed a limit on the number of customers that are able to enter the store at one time, in order to promote social distancing.

Ortiz said he believes it’s his obligation to continue working to help people shop for the items they need.

“A lot of businesses are closing and we’re an essential business and I like personally helping people, so I think it’s just best to keep business running,” he said.

Ortiz said he is concerned about his safety, but he trusts the changes Food Lion has made to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Food Lion
A sign at the Food Lion in Fort Mill highlights some of the changes the store has made in order to promote safety during the COVID-19 pandemic (photo: Tarik Beaulieu).

“Well I have asthma, so I am a little bit worried, say if someone was sick, but overall, I am really not that nervous. Asthma is really my only worry or concern.”

Ally Bivens, a Food Lion cashier, said she thinks it’s important to keep working so other families can get their groceries.

She also said she needs to maintain a stable income, so it helps that she receives an extra dollar an hour for working during the pandemic.

However, she still worries about her risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“Even with all the measures we have I’m still touching dirty money and all of the things customers have touched,” said Bivens. “But I am not worried enough to quit working. A lot of people have stopped working, because they are scared or their families are.”

Other stories, including Walmart, have also made changes to their policies.

Walmart has installed sneeze guards at registers and provided disinfectant wipes to customers before they grab a shopping cart.

According to a Walmart supervisor, who didn’t want to provide their name, “employees receive temperature checks before every shift,” which are intended to monitor each employee for any signs of illness.

Similar to Food Lion, Walmart has limited its stores’ capacity to 20 percent of its normal capacity and no more than five customers are allowed in a space of 1,000 square-feet.

Additionally, the Walmart corporate site includes a list of new policies to support employees during the pandemic, including changes to its emergency leave and attendance policies.