Unsplash, Rob Maxwell / Graphic by Gracie Watt
The Texas supermarket chain HEB has initiated a new series of protocols in order to better protect its employees amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Many changes have been made to the store including limitation on store hours, added protection at registers, employee access to masks and social distancing protocols.
According to Abel Zapata, the manager for Texas Backyard at an HEB in Georgetown, there has been an increase in demand and workload. Customers are stocking up on essentials such as toiletries, milk and eggs, making it harder for employees to keep up with the high demand.
Due to the increased workload, the first change HEB implemented is new store hours. Stores are now open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. This is meant to help reduce the time employees are exposed to or are in contact with others as well as allowing them more time to restock supplies.
“It’s nothing we can’t handle. We rely on Texans and Texans rely on us,” Zapata says.
Another change made is the addition of plexiglass at the registers. The plexiglass keeps cashiers and customers apart. If customers sneeze or cough, it prevents germs from getting to the cashier, and vice versa. , This type of protection is vital as the virus is airborne.
Serving as another safety precaution, specific employees are now in charge of sanitizing shopping carts and baskets, since multiple customers come in contact with these every day.
“I feel a little bit more safe coming into work knowing that we are reducing the exposure and spread of the virus by taking the necessary measures to ensure the safety and cleanliness in our stores,” Stephanie Lopez, an employee at Austin’s Hancock Center HEB, says.
The popular Texas chain has also put markings on the ground, both outside and inside the store, to enforce social distancing between customers. The stores did this in order to follow the CDC’s recommendation for people to remain 6 feet apart from one another in order to limit the spread of the virus.
HEB has raised the hourly wage for all employees, who now earn $2 more per hour. The increase is to reward employees for their work during this crisis as product demand continues to increase.
Before HEB made these recent changes, critics asked why cashiers were not provided with masks. The New York Times suggested that essential workers such as grocery store employees should be provided masks to protect themselves and others.
Following these comments, HEB announced it will provide masks and gloves for employees as of April 4.
“It was definitely needed because we were still out here working while being exposed to people the whole time,” Moises Jimenez, an HEB cashier at Mueller Market District, says. “We needed something else to ensure our safety as employees.”