While many businesses have been forced to close due to the coronavirus, grocery stores are busier than ever—and their employees have had to continue showing up for work, potentially putting themselves at risk. On March 31, some Whole Foods workers stayed home in a nationwide “sick out” to protest a lack of protections, and call for benefits like paid leave and hazard pay.
In response, the company has made some changes, but conditions for both employees and shoppers still vary widely among grocery chains. We checked in over the weekend to see how Charlottesville’s stores stack up.
Plexiglass shields have been installed in front of the registers at most stores (Wegmans and Reid Super-Save Market say they are coming soon).
Cashiers wear masks and gloves at Whole Foods, while those at Trader Joe’s, the Barracks Road Kroger, and Reid’s currently wear only gloves. Employees at Wegmans and the Food Lion on Pantops have neither.
Social distancing markers have been installed to keep customers six feet apart in check-out lines in all stores, and most cashiers wipe down registers between transactions.
Of the places we visited, Trader Joe’s seemed to be taking the most stringent precautions, limiting customers to 20 at a time in the store. Employees wearing face masks and gloves sanitize each cart before handing it off to a customer, and cashiers have no physical contact with customers.
For the record
As the virus has shuttered the economy, a record-breaking number of Americans and Virginians have filed unemployment claims. For one on-the-nose example of how bad things have gotten, head to the Virginia Employment Commission’s website—or don’t, because it has shut down, overwhelmed by the amount of new traffic.
Number of unemployment claims last week nationwide: 6.6 million
Number of unemployment claims last week in Virginia: 112,497
Quote of the Week
“Voters should not be forced to choose between exercising their Constitutional rights and preserving their own health and that of their community.”
—Allison Robbins, president of the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia, in a letter urging the state to cancel in-person voting in favor of mail-in ballots for upcoming elections
Better late than never?
UVA announced on Monday that it will create a $2 million emergency fund for contract employees laid off during the university’s closure. The decision comes after student activists circulated a petition demanding action and C-VILLE Weekly published a cover story about workers laid off by Aramark, UVA’s dining services contractor. The article prompted two GoFundMe campaigns, which raised a combined $71,000 for the employees in a matter of days. UVA is also donating $1 million to the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.
The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority has begun allowing Virginia-based distilleries to deliver their products directly to customers. The state claims the new rule is aimed at helping distilleries maintain some income during the current economic freeze. While the policy will surely help the distilleries, it’ll likely be even more beneficial for the thousands of Virginians currently trapped inside with their families.
Spring (break) into action
This week would have been spring break for Charlottesville City Schools, so the district didn’t plan to offer grab-and-go breakfast and lunch for its neediest students. But City Schoolyard Garden and The Chris Long Foundation have picked up the slack by partnering with local restaurants Pearl Island and Mochiko Cville to provide 4,000 meals throughout the week.
UVA will clear out three student residential buildings to make space for temporary housing for health care workers, the university announced this week. Students who left belongings when they were told not to return to school will have their things shipped and stored off-site by UVA. Students objected to the plan because anyone who wants to retrieve items before the end of the Virginia-wide state of emergency will be charged up to $100.