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The Fresh Market, a Greensboro, North Carolina-based grocery chain that sells natural and organic food, is requiring all customers to wear face coverings to enter its stores, which is a precaution the market believes will protect shoppers from asymptomatic coronavirus carriers, according to a company statement.
The new policy went into effect Tuesday throughout The Fresh Market’s 159 stores in 22 states and applies to store employees as well.
“In order to help keep our communities safe, wearing face coverings is a necessary measure in public settings where physical separation is difficult,” said James Ball, a director of food safety and quality assurance at The Fresh Market. “There is growing evidence that more individuals than previously thought may be carriers of coronavirus but do not show symptoms of the illness. Wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of the virus by asymptomatic individuals.”
“Since it is impossible to know who may be asymptomatic, it is prudent for everyone to wear a covering,” Ball continued. “The goal is to reduce the virus transmission to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
The decision to require face coverings in stores follows the updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that has recommended people wear a cloth face cover in public settings. People who do not have access to a cloth face cover can make one at home with fabric and elastics or an old T-shirt or bandanna, according to the CDC.
A newsletter email about the new policy went to subscribed customers on Saturday in addition to social media posts and store signage, according to The Fresh Market. Store associates will be available to answer questions and remind shoppers to follow the CDC’s social distancing guideline of keeping at least 6 feet apart, a distance equivalent to two shopping carts.
The Fresh Market has not required its customers to wear other personal protective equipment such as gloves because the CDC has not changed its recommendations outside of food preparation. However, the company is encouraging regular hand-washing because the coronavirus is transmittable through droplets from the body’s mucous membranes, including openings such as the eyes, ears, inside the nose and mouth.
Employees are following CDC recommended hand-washing guidance, The Fresh Market said, though front-end staff is allowed to wear gloves as “an added layer of protection” to minimize irritation caused by frequent hand-washing. The company also said it has trained these front-facing employees on how to properly wear and clean their gloves.
The Fresh Market has enhanced its cleaning and disinfection practices as well.
Additional safety measures The Fresh Market has implemented in its stores amid the coronavirus pandemic include reserved shopping hours for at-risk customers, contact-free credit card checkout options and limits on the number of customers that can be in the store at a time.
As of Tuesday evening, the novel coronavirus has surpassed 589,000 infections in the U.S., according to data from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.