Colorado has no capacity limits for grocery stores, prompting chains to create their own policies
As COVID-19 cases surge across Colorado, the state has not implemented capacity limits for grocery stores — leaving the companies to decide on their own policies.
Grocery stores are considered critical businesses under Gov. Jared Polis’s latest public health order, meaning they do not have to limit the number of shoppers that can be in a store at one time, a spokesperson with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in an email.
Some states — including California and New York — have mandated that grocery stores (at least in some counties with higher case rates) must limit customers to half the building’s capacity as a way to ensure social distancing, as new research shows limiting indoor capacity can greatly reduce the virus’s spread.
Without a clear mandate, Colorado’s grocery chains have implemented a variety of rules for their stores.
King Soopers continues to limit the number of shoppers to 50% of its capacity, a change the supermarket chain implemented in early April, the company said in an email.
Trader Joe’s, meanwhile, said it doesn’t have a specific number for capacity, but it stations employees inside and outside stores to ensure there aren’t too many people in any particular area.
Safeway has reduced occupancy in its Colorado stores, a spokesperson said via email, though they too do not have a hard-and-fast number for shopper limits.
And Costco said through a representative that it does not answer individual questions related to the pandemic. The store’s policy on capacity limits is unclear.
Thirteen grocery stores in Colorado had active outbreaks among employees as of Wednesday, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment. These include four King Soopers locations, with one Adams County site reporting nine positive cases and 49 probable cases among staff since the outbreak began in June.
Costco has current COVID-19 outbreaks at two locations in Jefferson County and one in Douglas County. Other outbreaks include a Sam’s Club in Larimer County, a Sprouts in Denver and a Roxy’s Market in Pitkin County.
For more information on outbreak locations, visit covid19.colorado.gov.
Shoppers outside a Safeway in north Denver on Thursday said they mostly feel good about the precautions taken by the supermarkets to keep them safe — even as cases continue to go up.
“I just don’t go inside if it looks too crowded,” said Tim Humphreys, adding that he sometimes gets groceries through curbside pickup.
Sandy Sabala has been limiting her trips to the grocery store since the pandemic began, and does her best to weave in and out of traffic to grab her items as quickly as possible.
“My mental state can’t handle too much time in there,” she said.
But Sabala said limiting customers inside the store would only create frustration — something she experienced earlier this year when long lines formed.
Tiffany Winston, who unloaded a cart full of groceries into her truck Thursday, said the prevalence of the virus means “it’s not safe nowhere. You put your mask on, sanitize as much as possible and do your best.”
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