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More COVID-19 tweaks to Capitol Hill grocery shopping: lines to get in, one-way aisles, U-Scan bottlenecks, and $2/hour ‘hero’ pay

Officials continue to try to fine tune distancing restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 and one of the core remaining public activities for Seattle residents is also undergoing some tweaks and new restrictions. You’ll see new lines outside Capitol Hill grocery stores and more changes inside including one-way aisles and, hopefully, more protections to keep workers safe and healthy.

Washington’s labor and industries department this week issued new guidelines for the industry:

The L&I guidance requires stores to have a social distancing plan, ensure frequent hand washing, and provide basic education to staff about how to prevent the spread of coronavirus. To protect workers, L&I strongly recommends steps like installing hand sanitizer dispensers for customers, ensuring people handling money and retrieving carts are wearing gloves, and marking on the floor and enforcing six-foot increments at checkout stands.

Area stores have implemented many of the recommendations. All three Capitol Hill QFCs now limit the number of customers allowed inside, for example. You will also find changes like one-way aisles to help shoppers maintain distancing.

Under union pressure, QFCs have also added a “hero bonus” temporary $2-an-hour hazard pay and are providing workers with disposable masks.

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Safeways, meanwhile, also began limiting shoppers to about 30% of normal capacity and providing masks to employees. The company’s workers are also receiving the union-won $2 an hour pay increase.

Smaller chains and the area’s independent grocers already have implemented many of the same practices. Lines outside Central Co-op and Trader Joe’s have been a ubiquitous sign that these are strange times, indeed, in the neighborhood.

Still, there are holes. The Seattle Times reported on a memo to employees at the QFC Broadway Market on North Broadway highlighting challenges raised by growing lines at self-serve checkouts:

Employees at the QFC in Broadway Market in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood said the store’s manager, Jillian Boone, chided staffers last week for attempting to close some of the “u-scan” machines to create more space between customers. Boone also posted a memo to staffers last week — a copy of which was obtained by The Seattle Times — telling them social distancing “will not always work.” “The aisle ways are narrow, the uscans are close together, the check stands are close together,” the memo says. “What I need all of you to understand is that our best defense is to try to get the customers through our front ends as quick as possible … if we only open every other uscan then that means that all of those customers are bottle necked on the back end and still not 6 ft. apart from each other.’’

Many residents, meanwhile, are leaning on delivery options as word quickly spreads on the best ways to optimize use of the various platforms to gain access to coveted “delivery windows” from the overtaxed services.


To further protect the industry’s workers and to help make grocery shopping less likely to add to the outbreak, state health officials also have posted new best practices for shoppers:

  • Limit the number of times you go to a grocery store to once a week or even less frequently.
  • Shop with a list and like you mean business. Save the browsing for later! The less time you are in there, the better!
  • Shop by yourself, if possible, to help limit the number of people in the aisles. Better yet, can you take a neighbor’s list with you and shop for them while you are at it?
  • Shop at less popular times when the stores will be less crowded.
  • Consider wearing a cloth face covering to protect others in case you have COVID-19 but haven’t developed any symptoms.
  • If you use the self-checkout stands, be sure to stand apart from other customers and from staff who may need to approach your station to help you.
  • Wash your hands or use sanitizer after handling money. Money is not likely a primary mode of transmission of coronavirus, but it’s a good idea to disinfect after handling money.
  • Don’t touch your face! Avoid using your phone, putting on chapstick, scratching your beard, or doing anything that would bring your hands into contact with your face.
  • Use hand sanitizer when you get in the car.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly when you get home.
  • You can toss packaging and wipe down bottles when you get home, but do not put disinfectants like bleach or cleaning products on your produce or directly onto your food, that is bad for you.

The changes join ongoing efforts like hours dedicated to at risk shoppers, floor stickers marking six-foot distancing for checkout lines, and restrictions on the use of personal bags. As for why some items seem to occasionally disappear from shelves, CHS looked at grocery distribution issues here.


More coverage…

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35 thoughts on “More COVID-19 tweaks to Capitol Hill grocery shopping: lines to get in, one-way aisles, U-Scan bottlenecks, and $2/hour ‘hero’ pay

  1. I appreciate the stores trying to do the right thing. I visited the Harvard Market QFC this morning and sadly few of my neighbors are respecting the aisle arrows. Almost no one is wearing a mask and plenty of couples continue to come together.

      • Why? You don’t care about other people? I don’t understand. The grocery store workers are risking their lives so we can eat and they don’t make much money. It’s too much trouble for you to wear a mask and observe physical distancing so that they don’t die from this? Over 40 grocery store workers have died nationwide. Why do I even say these things? Are people really that selfish?

  2. I agree with the manager. Open all the self-checkout, get in and out of the store fast instead of standing around in a line much longer than usual, less than 6 feet from others anyway.

  3. According to IHME at UW, the pandemic has already peaked here. The state has sent the feds’ ventilators back to them. Virginia Mason furloughs hospital staff due to insufficient workload.

    If we didn’t need this extra level of bullshit before and the danger is already dissipating, please explain why we need it now. Show your work.

      • Those are facts, fellow buddy.

        Cut the snark and please answer my question—though I don’t think you can:

        If the pandemic is now in decline without our previously following these frankly neurotic and excessive social distancing rituals, why must we adopt them now? Why mess with success?

      • Bob, you are not listening to public health experts, like Dr. Tony Fauci. They are strongly saying that now is not the time to relax the precautions, and I think they are much more credible than you.

      • @Bob with no last name, new cases went from doubling every 5-6 days prior the March 23rd “stay at home” issuance to now doubling every 12 days. This social distancing is significantly slowing the rate of spread, which in turn prevents our state’s healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed, and is the exact reason we can send ventilators to other states/stand down the proposed field hospital at Century Link.

      • Actually, we are indeed past the worst, as reported in this very publication. Or do you only read what you want to read.

        Again, if the pandemic is in decline without our needing to queue up outside the store, why do we need this bullshit now? From jseattle:

        “Did you miss it?

        “The influential analysis from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington says the state has already passed through the worst of the planet’s first COVID-19 outbreak.”

      • Yes Bob, and we got to this point, “passed through the worst of [it],” because of social distancing. I’m not sure why this is so difficult to comprehend.

        The social distancing is helping contain this initial outbreak, giving our supply chains valuable time to produce/deliver PPE, testing kits, etc. and giving health professionals/policy makers time to outline a plan to minimize the spread of second outbreak once our “stay at home” order is inevitably relaxed.

        There will be a flare up again but because of what we’re doing now, when it does hit, the state and the medical community will be much better prepared to handle it.

      • “Yes Bob, and we got to this point, “passed through the worst of [it],” because of social distancing. I’m not sure why this is so difficult to comprehend.”

        Yes Brian N, but we “passed through the worst of [it]” WITHOUT queueing up outside the Safeway and walking down one way aisles. So why must we do that NOW, after the danger has begun to dissipate?

        I’m not sure why such a simple question is so difficult to comprehend!

        I think those of you urging more precautions even as the threat diminishes simply like being told what to do and what to think. You love the regimentation. tsk tsk

      • A general point: We simply do not have enough data to say whether the observed reduction in cases in Washington and elsewhere lately is due to social distancing or to the herd immunity of an increasing number of individuals who have been infected with coronavirus, developed immunity, and hence become a dead end for further virus infection.

        If you’re being scientific about this, you
        must allow it could be either way,

      • Bob, social distancing has been in place in Washington for 3 weeks now, what we’re all seeing are stores who handle high volumes of customers develop deliberate best practices to ensure the safety of their customers and workers. First we saw some tape in checkout aisles, then we saw plastic shields at registers installed, then queing up to reduce # of people in the stores, then one way isles and face masks for all their employees. These are measures being adopted all across the country to prevent the spread/contain current outbreaks.

        Yes, the spread has dissipated here but expect some of these current measures like encouragimg to cover your face when in public, minimizing the size of gatherings, etc. to stay in place until testing becomes more sophisticated and really until a vaccine is developed. And when a flare up hits us again, and it will, expect to see a return to *all* the measures highlighted above.

        A note about heard immunity: it’s not achieved until 80-90% of a population has immunity. There are roughly 7 million people living in Washington. There have been ~10k confirmed cases in the state. Even if there’s been 100x as many undiagnosed cases as there have been diagnosed cases (spoiler alert: there hasn’t been), that’s still only 15% of our state’s population. Your hypothesis that this dissipation is because most of our states population has developed immunity is bunk – the only way we’re going to safely see herd immunity is through vaccination. If we achieve it by simply just letting the virus spread across the state like wildfire, infecting 5-6 million people over a couple months, then our hospital systems will become completely overwhelmed and all those worst those case fatality models will be realized. Remember, the whole point of all these measures is ultimately to slow the spread of the virus to levels that can be effectively managed by our healthcare professionals until a vaccine can be widely distributed.

    • The reason cases are slowing down is bc most of us are staying home. There is no cure or treatment. The only thing we can do to stop the spread is wash our hands and practice physical distancing. If we let up on the distancing, the disease will flare up again. This is a time when we all need to think about not only ourselves but other people. Why is that so hard for so many people?

      • It’s hard for many of us because your view is not supported by the evidence, Mimi. Most Swedes are not staying home. Their workplaces, restaurants, and bars remain open. Their economy isn’t deeply, dangerously cratering like ours is, with the resultant vast human misery.

        Yet Sweden’s COVID death curve is beginning to flatten BEFORE ours, despite 95% of the US population under lockdown.

      • @ Bob – what you’ve said is simply untrue – Sweden is nowhere near to ‘flattening’ their curve (your graph features a little noise, not a trend… and it’s *still an increase in cases* even if it’s slightly less than the week before) and indeed are expected to have rising numbers of deaths – in the thousands – in the coming weeks. Compared to their neighbors Denmark and Finland their graph looks positively horrifyingly steep. That may sound a little less than dire – but remember the entire country doesn’t have many more people that some large cities….

        Before you all whine and complain about whatever the new restriction or change to your routine may be, remember your inconvenience may be someone else’s death…. You are not immune- no matter what your age or fitness is, and while your chances of become severely ill may be lower they are not zero – do it also for yourself. The faster we can clear community transmission (and remember while the rate of increase in new cases has been dropping we still have new cases) the faster we can all get back to some semblance of normality – so suck it up – stay home – walk down the aisle in the right direction and we’ll all be better off and will get back to normal faster.

      • why do people keep saying “cases are going down”? They’re not. The rate of INCREASE is slowing. Even if the # of new cases/day totally flattened out, that’s NOT the same as “going down”. If it leveled off to 500 new cases/day for 10 days, the rate of increase would be zero, but the number of new cases would still be 500×10=5000. That’s not “cases are going down”.

  4. I was at Broadway QFC this week (Thursday). I was surprised by how few QFC workers were wearing masks and watched 2 have an extended conversation standing right next to each other. It seemed that a higher percentage of customers had masks on than employees, and many customers were observing the one way aisles. I’d think that alternating self check stands would provide enough distance and help get people out of the store quickly.

  5. 1) Standing in line, you’re breathing on somebody’s back. Doesn’t sound a likely source of infection.

    2) Medium social isolation (which we’re sort of shambling towards) is probably best. If we all isolate, and ~ nobody gets COVID during isolation, then we all get it when we relax the isolation. If a good fraction of us get it now, then we’ve both flattened the curve and produced (presumably) immune people as carers/workers for 2nd round. That was the better response of some US cities during the 1918 flu epidemic:

    • They are working on treatments and using antibody testing so that when we loosen up the restrictions, the disease doesn’t spread like wildfire. It will not be safe until these things are in place. And of course, the holy grail is the vaccine which is at a min. 18 months out. This is going to go on awhile.

  6. Oh so u guys want to quote fauci? How about this one….

    If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968)”

    Those are his own words.
    Its hilarious how ppl forget this is a caronavirus and people are trying to take credit for the decline that is about to happen in the northern hemisphere due to warm weather. Washington state’s response was faster then most of the nation but it was still incredibly slow who are u kidding?. Of the 14 or 16 recorded pandemics in the last 250 years they all burned out during summer except 2, and that was Spanish flu because it was especially insane and killed ppl young and old.

    But yeah it’s easier to say that the caronavirus is dying down because of your quick actions and heroism cough cough at the very end of the sick season

    Here are some things I dug up.

    “Dr John Nicholls, a pathology professor at the University of Hong Kong, saying there are three things coronavirus does not like: sunlight, temperature and humidity.

    “Sunlight will cut the virus’s ability to grow in half, so the half-life will be 2.5 minutes, and in the dark it’s about 13 to 20 [minutes]

    And there is this….

    “Dr Stefan Baral, an epidemiology expert at Johns Hopkins University, was quoted by the Boston Herald as saying he expects “a natural decrease” of the disease as the United States moves into warmer weather.”

    So yeah its probably not your feebly late social distancing, not that social distancing is a bad idea, just please stop taking all the credit for the drop its unscientific

    Also people forget that when seasons start to change the wind is more erratic and stronger, pushing more pathogens around in the air. Idiot’s will tell u well how about Australia or iran aren’t they in summer now? NO it is not summer in iran or Australia god I have seen articles stating just that over and over dont trust short news articles unless they cited sources ppl are lazy.

    Dr. Nic says he expects a burn out in may June or july so take heart. At least we might get a breather for a couple months before this shitstorm starts back up again late fall early winter

    • Since you are too high up on that horse apparently to look it up yourself Mr. Man – that was a National Academies of Science report to the president that disputes the idea that *coronavirus* (not carona….) will dissipate with warmer weather, that also mentions the rapid spread in Iran and Australia, despite the ‘summer’ climate conditions they are experiencing. Should you actually desire to educate yourself it is freely available for download here –

      To all of you who feel this is silly… 1) your inconvenience

      • Perfect example of what I was saying. Obviously you did not read that study beyond the summary page. Lazy. Read the whole thing. Basic summary is that though many studies have come out supporting this seasonal die down theory , their data gathering and methodology was unreliable so be cautious.

        You then go on to quote what I had just commented on about Australia and iran. Really?

      • Really yourself – you were the one bitching that no one cited the ‘news’ article that mentioned the summer like weather in those countries not slowing the spread corona virus… all I did was cite it, nor did I make any judgement calls on it’s contents, so save your derisiveness for yourself – who claims to have a clue, but doesn’t even know it’s not carona…. and that it’s not an unsupported ‘news article’ but a report prepared by a panel of experts for the federal government that is warning that warm weather may not stop the spread of Covid-19…

      • Oh and btw Mr. Man…. You are simply totally wrong about it not being summer in Australia while Covid was beginning to spread there….. It was *totally* summer… Covid arrived in Australia on Jan 25th… that’s about as summer as it gets there…. Summer runs from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 there…. so that would be equivalent to our August – not to mention summer temperatures don’t even end there with the official beginning of ‘fall’- they’ve really got until the end of the month before it starts to cool there.

  7. Was at U Village QFC this Sunday morning. 90 percent of workers not wearing any masks. I asked the checker, she said, “They gave us a box with a few to share among all of us.” Hardly any customers wearing masks. People were coughing. Some not paying attention to aisle markings or distancing. It was crowded. And, even worse – there were old people shopping without masks. Overheard one worker say, “I hope they don’t take my temperature now. I feel pretty hot.” Something is not working, and one of them must be the sick leave policy. The other is the mask policy. It was really bad. And all you idiots who think you are smarter than our public health officials, please attach a sign to yourself, so that if you end up using resources in the hospital our healthcare workers know you don’t care. “If I get Covid, do not treat me.”

  8. Its unfortunate that dr. Relman is one of those ppl who think Australia and iran are in summer right now. Confusing to ppl who cant figure out the seasons of places for themselves

  9. To those skeptical about the efficacy of social distancing:

    The rest of us request you maintain a division between your intellectual skepticism and your social actions. When our local experts give guidance, please follow it, even if you disagree.

    In the coming months we will find out who among you is capable of compassion and pro-social behavior, even when they disagree with the justification or claims of efficacy.

    You can disagree with local policies and you could even be right, however if you don’t follow the guidelines set up by our local government to protect other people, you’re just a jerk.

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