Brooklynites call for social distancing guidelines for essential stores

Shoppers browse in a supermarket while wearing masks in St Louis
Shoppers browse in a supermarket while wearing masks to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

As shoppers flock to grocery stores and pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic, locals have complained that crowded lines and aisles help spread the virus  — prompting one Kings County lawmaker to call for citywide social distancing guidelines for essential businesses.

“I’ve been contacted by a number of constituents concerned about social distancing in pharmacies and grocery stores,” said Coney Island Councilman Mark Treyger. “The mayor really has a responsibility to issue guidance about what social distancing looks like.”

Both the city and state have instituted numerous measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, such as closing schools, shuttering playgrounds, and issuing fines to people who cluster in public — but many grocery stores and pharmacies have been forced to devise their own social distancing policies to mitigate the influx of customers. 

One employee at a Cobble Hill supermarket said that she struggles to enforce her store’s social distancing rules because of the sharp rise in customers.

“We can’t be on top of everybody,” said Odalys Martinez, a cashier at Key Food on Atlantic Avenue. “People don’t like when you tell them what to do.”

Universal social distancing guidelines would help ensure that all businesses are following best practices, and could convince customers to follow their rules, said Martinez.

“It’d be very helpful,” she said. “It keeps everyone safe.” 

An employee at Trader Joe’s in Cobble Hill echoed Martinez’s concerns, saying that shoppers tended to cluster up in an effort to get their hands on much-needed supplies. 

“Customers as a whole don’t social distance themselves,” said a worker who declined to give his name. “They pull up in one aisle.”

To help employees enforce social distancing measures, Treyger wrote a letter to the mayor on March 30 demanding that the city come up with social distancing guidelines for stores, and produce multilingual signage for businesses to post.

“It is crucial that grocery stores and pharmacies adhere to social distancing by limiting the number of customers allowed in facilities at one time,” Treyger wrote. 

City Hall spokeswoman Laura Feyer claimed the mayor’s administration has been working with grocery industry leaders to implement social distancing measures and has already produced 50,000 multilingual signs for stores around the city — but their individualized approach leaves many business owners high and dry, said Treyger.

“We need a uniform policy,” he wrote in his letter.