During his October 6 press conference about COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis suggested that the best way to make sure rising hospitalization numbers don't get out of control is to redouble safety protocols as we head into colder weather and the holiday season.
But that's not happening, judging from visits to numerous Denver-area stores over recent weeks: Many of the procedures put in place months ago to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus have fallen by the wayside.
For instance, an overwhelming majority of retail outlets appear to have stopped tracking the number of people in the store at a given time. Likewise, sanitizing shopping carts, cash registers, conveyor belts, credit-card touch pads and the like is happening with much less frequency. And mask use among employees, while infinitely better than it was during the early days of the pandemic, has literally started to slip.
We've sighted the slippage in such major retailers as King Soopers, Walmart, Target, Sam's Club, Big Lots and Five Below. But they're hardly the only offenders.
Yes, stickers are still on floors, and extra plexiglass remains in place. But in general, a combination of complacency and the added expense of disinfecting and monitoring duties has led to a slow but steady reversion to business as almost usual.
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Granted, not everyone has slacked off. Our neighborhood Trader Joe's continues to make customers line up outside the main entrance during high-traffic periods in order to be admitted on a one-in, one-out basis. And numerous national retailers at malls, including the Lululemon branch at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, still have an employee assigned to make sure that capacity is limited.
But these are exceptions, not the rule. We haven't had to wait to get into a large grocery store in over a month, and many of them have seemed much more crowded than they did in April and May, when policies were at their strictest. And the last time our temperature was checked before entry was at casinos in Central City and Black Hawk. (By the way, Westword takes the temperature of anyone entering the office.)
Some examples from this past weekend:
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As we walked toward the entrance of our local Walmart, three employees stood chatting in a tight knot, unmasked. Yes, they were outdoors, but their uncovered faces didn't exactly represent good modeling for what might be happening inside. And while we didn't see any workers without masks in the aisles or at registers, several wore them incorrectly, below the nose. And no one seemed to be checking how many people were coming and going — although a greeter did have a stack of masks for anyone who arrived without one. Carts weren't being disinfected, and we didn't see anyone wipe down counters or registers between customers or at shift changes.
The situation was similar at a nearby King Soopers. Bottles of disinfectant were placed at the entrance for customers who wanted to wipe down carts themselves; no staffers were tasked with doing so. An employee at the entrance had extra masks but wasn't monitoring capacity. Inside, there was no disinfecting of high-touch objects in the checkout area, and we spotted multiple employees with lowered facial coverings, as well as a worker who wasn't wearing one at all. When a customer mentioned its absence, the guy snapped that he was just coming off break and would put it on again when he was back on duty.
At the October 6 press conference, Polis acknowledged how hard it is to remain diligent in terms of COVID-19 safety over such a long period of time, with no definite end in sight. "Mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing are making a difference — saving lives, saving our economy," he maintained. "And we need to keep it up. We're all tired of the virus, but the virus is not tired of us."
This message is one retailers need to bear in mind, too.