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Re-opening during pandemic exposes concerns

Missouri “fully re-opened” on June 16 after an order from Gov. Mike Parson including instructions to continue following COVID-19 precautions such as social distancing, using face masks and frequent hand washing. 

Residents now are venturing out from home much more than they did during the past three months, and are finding varying levels of precautions being followed.

The challenge for businesses

Jamie Collins, Dierbergs Markets’ vice president of marketing & advertising, provided Mid Rivers Newsmagazine a snapshot of how the grocery chain is managing amid COVID-19.

“Overall total business at the O’Fallon store by the intersection of highways K and N is about normal,” Collins said, though she did note that shopping patterns have changed. “They now come in less frequently, but buy more each time they shop.”

Methods of shopping have changed as well. 

“We partnered with Shipt [an Alabama-based grocery delivery company] for customers who want someone else to go to the store, shop for them and then deliver groceries to their homes. Shipt also provides curbside delivery, where customers can go to the store, park in designated spaces, and have their groceries placed inside their vehicles. Customers today can come into the stores or use the Shipt options.”

When asked about employment levels, Collins noted, “The overall total number of Dierbergs team members is about the same as before the pandemic, but they are working different times of the day.  We spread out their hours more, in order to maintain social distancing while also providing the same level of customer service we always have.

“All team members are required to wear face masks. Depending on their role, some must wear gloves while handling food, and that requirement was there before COVID-19. Customer use of face masks varies greatly by day of week, time of day and age group. Anecdotally, you can see 7 in 10 customers wearing masks at one time of day, then see 5 in 10 at another time of day.  It all depends.”

Collins said her greatest surprise and pride during the pandemic has been the endurance of Dierbergs teammates. 

“They come to work, wearing face masks, working long shifts while helping customers, checking, bagging, and stocking shelves and never scaling back on their level of customer service,” Collins said. “They did all of this and continue doing it in spite of how quickly things change. This is all while navigating fast-paced operational changes that were being made to accommodate CDC guidelines. I knew they were special, but I’m very proud to know many of these individuals.”

In regard to the governor lifting state-mandated restrictions on June 16, Collins said: “We see that some customers already have been letting their guard down, lowering their own safety guardrails by not wearing masks and not social distancing.  This is, of course, their choice.  Dierbergs will continue to prioritize keeping our customers and associates safe and healthy.  We’ll keep the current precautions with everything we already have in place, and follow CDC guidelines for best practices as long as needed, in order to do as much as we can to keep our customers and associates safe and healthy.”

For Peter M., owner of Prestige Cleaners in O’Fallon, surviving COVID-19 has been harder and he believes his business recovery “will be a very slow, gradual buildup for the rest of the year.”

“At the beginning when everyone was told stay home, our business dropped off by 80%,” Peters said. “Over the past few weeks, even as some things started opening up, business still is down about 60% from normal levels.”

Peter said he and his coworkers, who are also his family members, wear face masks whenever customers are in the store; however, only about 80% of customers wear masks on average.

A similar scene was witnessed at the Sherwin Williams paint store on Hwy. K on June 15. Of the seven customers in the building, only two were wearing masks despite signs that requested all customers to do so. Additional signs in the store clearly directed customers to enter via one door and exit through another. Circles on the floor indicated proper social distances for customers to maintain while waiting in line for the cashiers, who were located behind plexiglass shields and wearing face masks. 

Adjusting to a new normal

O’Fallon residents Alicia B. and Barb T. have had their hair done once or twice each month for years at Inspire Salon in Lake Saint Louis. Both noted that during Phase 1 of the state’s reopening, the salon had removed half of its workstations and used only half of the shampoo stations. Stylists worked different shifts to have fewer customers in the salon at any one time while still providing service safely to as many customers as possible. The salon’s hours also were extended to include Mondays, when it had previously been closed.

Precautions such as requiring appointments, having customers wait in their vehicles to enter the salon rather than waiting inside of it and everyone wearing face masks, may become commonplace even as the state reopens.

Barb reported that Chesterfield Nail & Spa follows the same procedures regarding appointments, waiting areas and masks. Additionally, in the first part of June, customers’ temperatures were being taken at the door and plexiglass panels separated patrons and nail technicians, who wore face shields in addition to their masks. 

Plus, Barb said, “They have you sign a waiver form, in case you develop coronavirus symptoms later. The pens are used only once and then are disinfected.”

O’Fallon residents Bob and Rochelle D. described their recent experience at Bristol Seafood Grill in Winghaven as excellent, especially given the COVID-19 restrictions and precautions. They made reservations in advance as required by the restaurant. 

“When we arrived, the hostess showed us to our table, with no one near us. She then told us where the hand sanitizers were located,” Rochelle explained. “She wore a mask, as did we. She also pointed out the ‘reserved for distance’ signs on the nearby empty tables providing social distance.

“We asked our server many questions. He said even after the broader rules are in effect on June 16, they will still keep customer tables spaced out a lot.”

Saying that Bristol is doing its part to make customers feel welcome, Bob and Rochelle added: “We will do business where we are safe, feel protected and enjoy the environment.”

Especially for customers with higher risk factors, a perception of safety may mean the difference between patronizing a business or not.

O’Fallon resident Robert D. said of his trip to an AutoZone store in O’Fallon on Friday, June 12, that he and his wife were the only two in the store wearing masks. “There was no social distancing being observed, either,” he said. “The clerks and cashiers and customers were freely handing things back and forth without masks or gloves or any other precautions. We voted with our feet and decided to just walk back out. Too risky [for us] to do business there.”

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