Grocers tweak hours to protect older shoppers from coronavirus

Grocery stores are setting aside early-morning hours for older shoppers to help protect them from the coronavirus.

Regional supermarket chains including Stop & Shop, Morton Williams and Houston’s Food Town are giving priority to seniors at the start of their business days to help them avoid crowds, which officials say is key keeping them safe from the virus.

They’re joined by the Dollar General discount-store chain, which is dedicating the first hour of each shopping day to seniors starting Tuesday. The Tennessee-based company operates more than 16,000 stores around the US.

“We appreciate our customers’ understanding of our decision and request they visit our stores later in the morning to allow at-risk populations the ability to purchase the items they need at affordable prices,” Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos said in a statement.

Morton Williams, which has 16 stores in New York City and New Jersey, is similarly encouraging customers to give seniors and other “compromised” shoppers priority from 7 to 8 a.m.

Massachusetts-based Stop & Shop will go further by giving shoppers who are 60 or older a designated entrance from 6 to 7:30 a.m. starting Thursday. The stores won’t be checking identification, but the company said its staffers “reserve the right to ask customers to leave if they are not a member of this age group.”

But Food Town says shoppers will have to show a government-issued ID to get into its stores from 7 to 8 a.m., when access will be restricted to those aged 65 and older starting Tuesday. The chain has 30 stores in the Houston area, according to its website.

Older adults and people with serious chronic medical problems have a higher risk of getting very sick from the coronavirus disease, which has stricken thousands of people in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials say older people should avoid crowds as much as possible and keep enough groceries on hand so they’re prepared hunker down at home for a period of time.

Grocery stores are among the essential businesses that have been allowed to remain open in places that have shut down other businesses, such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

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