Area Businesses Navigating COVID Crisis, Finding Ways to Protect Employees and Customers
On March 15, Monroe County’s reported COVID-19 cases had just doubled – from 3 the previous day to 6, as reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. That day Karen & Don Struckle made the difficult decision to temporarily close their Casino Theatre and Village Malt Shoppe, citing concern for employee and patron health. They were the first Mount Pocono area business to act. In quick succession, the Jubilee Restaurant announced it was ending dine-in service, then Kalahari and Camelback followed with statements of temporary closures the same day. In the weeks since, the situation changed often and rapidly. As we go to press, it is four weeks to the day since non-essential businesses were ordered shut statewide.
The remaining open businesses in Mount Pocono have navigated the situation for themselves, trying to find ways of protecting their employees and customers, while still providing the necessities needed by the public. Several, like big box stores Lowe’s and Walmart, as well as smaller operations like the UPS Store, PetValue, and Rent-A-Center, are limiting the number of customers permitted in the store at any given time. Many have reduced hours, or offer hours exclusively for customers especially at risk from the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, such as seniors, the immunocompromised, and individuals with respiratory illnesses. (This may not be the best idea, see “Senior Hours Could Be Dangerous to Your Health” in this issue). At Lowe’s, store manager Scott Crouse told The Boro*, that he made the decision to limit occupancy after seeing store traffic flow the first weekend in April. He was concerned that there were too many people not maintaining recommended physical distancing. “We want to monitor the traffic to make sure it’s safe for our customers and for our associates (referring to store employees),” Crouse said, as we stood outside his store on a weekday afternoon where about a dozen customers waited for an associate to allow them to enter, one at a time, as customers exited at the other end of the store.
Crouse set up a system with a single entrance and exit. Once 100 customers were in the store, an employee monitoring the exit texts one posted at the entrance to let a customers in. Mount Pocono’s Walmart has set up a similar system under a company-wide mandate. At Lowe’s and Walmart, shoppers on line were maintaining physical distancing. Walmart allows 100 customers in the store, while the smaller Ollie’s limits the number to 50. The UPS Store permits only two persons in the store at one time, and have set up two customer service tables, six feet from the employees and also from one another. They clean the surfaces between each customer. Pet-Value also limits customers to two at a time; the Rent-A-Center and Cricket store permit only one customer per sales person. The Rent-A-Center door is also locked. To gain entrance, customers need to call a phone number placed on the door. Weiss and Shoprite have reduced hours, but are neither limiting customers. Aldi is throughly cleaning every shopping cart after each customer use, and is waiving the quarter “deposit” for shopping carts during the COVID-19 emergency. In addition to limiting the number of customers permitted in the store, Aldi also instituted one-way aisles to promote physical distancing. Lowe’s, Aldi, and Walmart have provided masks to employees for optional use. None of the retailers in Mount Pocono are requiring employees or customers be masked at this point. Some stores have marked their floors at the check outs in six-foot intervals indicating recommended physical distancing spaces. A recent visit to a number of area stores found about half of the customers were masked, and most employees not wearing masks, although that differed from store to store. All Aldi employees were masked, while almost none at Shoprite and Weiss wore masks. Several stores, like Lowe’s, erected plastic shields between cashiers and customers, and a number of them played recorded announcements over their sound system reminding customers to practice physical distancing. In most cases, the customers seemed to self-distance from other customers and employees. A number of employees had noted that voluntary cooperation with the measures seemed to be improving over the last few days as the situation locally, statewide, and regionally had become graver. “It's an unprecedented time,” Crouse said, “Everybody has to work together to get through it.”