Published 24 April 2020
We have a natural tendency to care for the elderly. However, this can lead to essential COVID-19 safety measures being disregarded in an attempt to help. It’s important that employees remember the protocols in place to keep themselves and customers safe.
The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19, are particularly harmful to elderly people. This has become evident as the virus continues to spread around the world and we are seeing that large percentages of people dying from the disease are of the elderly population. This appears to be due to elderly people having a higher incidence of already having underlying health conditions that are exasperated with a COVID-19 infection.
With the recent rise in demand on grocery stores and supermarkets, elderly shoppers are expressing fears and concerns about conducting their regular shopping. The sheer numbers of people that are flocking to stores to get food and household items place an even greater risk of exposure to the elderly when they visit stores. Shopping in these locations is not something that is easily avoided, so many elderly people will need to still go out to the store, putting themselves at risk for catching the coronavirus.
In response, many food retail businesses are enacting special designated times for only elderly customers to come in and shop. These times are often first thing in the morning and range from one-hour to two-hour time frames depending on the store. The intent of this action is to reduce the amount of potential exposure that elderly customers could experience when shopping in grocery stores or supermarkets.
As a food retail business, there are some things to watch out for when implementing special shopping hours for the elderly. The main issue is that we have a natural tendency to care for the elderly, especially those that have mobility issues or muscle weakness. This can lead to essential COVID-19 protocols being disregarded in an attempt to help someone out.
Here are some reminders for how to serve elderly customers while respecting COVID-19 safety measures:
Do not pick up any items for other people.
It can be very tempting to go above and beyond to help elderly customers grab items, especially heavy ones, as they peruse the aisles of the store. It is a commendable action to take, but it is not without risks. If a staff member grabs a heavy item, or an out-of-reach piece of fresh produce, the items could become contaminated with the coronavirus. It is important to remember that many people who have the virus are asymptomatic, so even if a staff member feels fine, they must restrain from touching items for other customers.
Physical or social distancing must be maintained.
If a customer comes up to ask a question or needs assistance, be sure to maintain the proper physical distancing between you and the customer. Physical distancing is achieved with a distance of at least 1 or 2 meters. This may be difficult to maintain if a person is speaking softly or has difficulty hearing. If you must move closer to hear what they are saying, ensure that you turn your ear towards them so you are not directly face-to-face. As soon as you can, move back quickly to the proper physical distance.
If you must help, ensure you use personal protective equipment (PPE).
There are times throughout the operations when not touching items or helping an elderly customer are unavoidable. For example, a customer may have difficulty placing items on a conveyor belt at checkout, or pushing their heavy cart to their car. If you must help a customer, be sure to use PPE such as disposable gloves. Be sure to follow proper protocols when using disposable gloves. Hands should washed before and after changing gloves, and gloves should be replaced immediately after use. Do not wear disposable gloves for long periods of time because they will be carrying bacteria, and possibly the coronavirus, and can spread it to other objects and surfaces throughout the store.
It is important to remember that helping the elderly population during this time of crisis is very honorable. Do not let this good deed backfire by potentially exposing vulnerable customers to COVID-19. Ensure proper safety protocols are being followed, no matter who is shopping in the premises.