COVID-19: Why So Few King Soopers, Safeway Workers Wear Gloves

A May 17 announcement from the office of Governor Jared Polis noted that a new executive order intended to enhance safety for workers in critical industries requires them "to wear non-medical face coverings while at work and to wear gloves (if gloves are provided by an employer) when in contact with customers or goods."

These rules cover staffers at grocery stores, whose use of masks has gone way up since Polis made face coverings mandatory for such employees interacting with the public on April 17. But based on our visits to retailers such as Safeway and King Soopers over the past two months, not many employees are wearing gloves — 20 percent or fewer on most days.

Why not? Despite the state health order, neither Safeway nor King Soopers require employees to don gloves while on the job, since there's considerable debate about how much good they do.

In a recent Q&A, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, among the country's most prominent advocates for hygienic measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, pointed out that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is essentially ambivalent about the use of gloves by grocery-store customers (and, by association, employees), since the virus can stick to them and be transferred to an individual's face just as it might if they'd gone without gloves entirely. Even those who choose to wear gloves should wash their hands frequently, he advised.

Safeway spokesperson Kris Staff echoes these observations via email. "Safeway food service workers (deli, bakery, meat etc.) have always worn gloves (and still do) as a requirement as part of our food safety protocol," she writes. "The rest of our associates (cashiers, baggers, etc.) are not required to wear gloves. The CDC guidelines recommend frequent hand washing throughout the day, and all associates are required to wash their hands at least once every hour."

Jessica Trowbridge, a spokesperson for Kroger, the parent company of King Soopers, notes that "in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, King Soopers has taken extensive measures to safeguard our associates, customers and supply chain, ensuring local communities always have access to fresh, affordable food."

Here's her list of "measures we are implementing and continually updating to protect the safety of our associates, customers and our communities":
• Gloves and face coverings for every associate, every shift
• Plexiglass shields installed at checkout stands
• Educational floor decals to ensure physical distancing
• Handwashing and cleaning high-touch areas every 30 minutes
• Limiting store capacity to 50 percent of normal (1 person for every 120 square feet of store space)
• Increased store sanitation processes when restocking
• Mandatory temperature and symptom checks for associates prior to starting their shifts
• Communication with all employees to review, confirm and reinforce safety and social distancing best practices
But even though "gloves and masks are provided to every associate for every shift," Trowbridge adds that "while masks are required, gloves are optional. We know that proper sanitation, including frequent hand washing, is critical to preventing the spread of disease. As such, our associates are washing their hands and cleaning high-touch areas every thirty minutes. We continue to seek and follow guidance from federal, state and local agencies, including the CDC, regarding best practices during this unprecedented pandemic."