WOODBURY, Conn.—Numerous retailers are taking employees’ temperatures before they go on duty, NACS Daily has reported, but a Connecticut grocery has joined a smattering of retailers that also are checking shoppers’ temperatures before they enter stores.
LaBonne’s of Woodbury, Connecticut, is a four-store chain not far from New York City, which has been hit hard by COVID-19. Recently, the supermarkets started screening customers for fevers before they go inside to shop, reports GroceryDive.com.
Bob LaBonne Jr., president and CEO, has no hesitation about taking people’s temperatures before letting them in. “There is no playbook for how to run a grocery store in a pandemic,” he said. “I wake up and ask myself several times a day what else can I do to keep my people, their families, and my customers and communities safe,” he said.
Workers at LaBonne’s Markets began checking the temperature of every customer on April 7, using thermometers that don’t touch the skin. Anyone registering a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above, employees and vendors included, is barred from entering. No exceptions.
“It’s not an option. It’s not, ‘Can I take your temperature?’ It’s, ‘Excuse me, but I have to take your temperature,’” LaBonne said. “I’m hoping the whole process of checking temperature raises the awareness of, ‘Hey, if you’re sick, stay home, go see a doctor, take proper steps.’”
The company has been promoting its curbside pickup and home delivery options to customers. The grocer also put a 40-foot container with refrigerated space and an office outside the chain’s Salisbury, Connecticut store. Business recently tripled due to an influx of New Yorkers escaping the city.
LaBonne has heard complaints that his efforts provide a false sense of security. “That’s true. People can be asymptomatic, but if someone does have a fever and the test says they have it, it’s one less person that can walk around and potentially infect another customer or one of my associates,” he said. “It’s not 100%, but it’s more than my competition is doing, that’s for sure.”
In addition to the temperature checks, LaBonne’s 400-plus employees are required to wear face masks, which he provides. So far, there is no requirement for customers to wear masks. “If I had them to give out, I would give them out,” he said. “But they’re in short supply, and I want to be sure that the medical people have them.”
A few other stores are taking similar measures. Last month, the six City Farmers Market stores in Georgia began using sensors that remotely beam the temperature of each shopper to a screen as they walk past it. If someone appears to have a fever, a store employee will take the shopper aside and perform another check with a handheld thermometer. Store personnel will offer to bring groceries to anyone told they cannot enter the store.
Menards, a Midwestern home improvement chain that carries a selection of groceries, began checking the temperature of customers at a store in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, on April 1, using a handheld thermometer that doesn’t need to touch an individual’s skin to function.
Grocery foot traffic nationwide has moderated in recent weeks following a mid-March surge in panic buying. That makes it easier for retailers to control customer inflow, but telling customers they can't enter stores, and then actually enforcing the rule without putting employees and others in danger, could be challenging.
“Checking the temperatures of shoppers would help protect both grocery workers and shoppers,” said John Logan, professor and director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University. “But it's likely that not all shoppers would agree to this.”
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