Publix To Allow Some Workers To Wear Masks, Gloves While On Duty

Mar 30, 2020

Publix will now allow some of its workers to wear personal protective equipment while on duty, Maria Brous, director of communications for the grocer, told WJCT News in an email.

“We are deeply proud of how our dedicated associates are taking care of our customers and each other through this unprecedented and challenging time,” the statement read, in part.

Publix said it was changing its policy to allow masks and gloves because it values “our associates' personal comfort and as a result, have decided to allow those in select job classes who are not normally required to wear gloves and masks, the option to wear this personal protective equipment for the duration of this national emergency.”  

Publix will provide gloves for associates while its limited inventory is available, although the grocery chain anticipates they will become even more scarce soon. Publix will not supply masks to associates. 

“Although we are providing associates the option of wearing masks and gloves for their personal comfort, it’s important to understand that all official advice from public health organizations state that washing hands frequently, maintaining social distancing, and avoiding touching of the eyes, nose, and mouth are the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Allowing the usage of masks and gloves does not mean that associates should discontinue or reduce these practices,” the spokeswoman said.

Since the spread of COVID-19, customers have flooded grocery stores to stock up on supplies. And as grocery store employees are interacting face to face with customers and restocking merchandise that someone with the virus could have handled, many “essential” workers are concerned that they could be exposed to the virus.

Earlier Monday, a First Coast Publix worker spoke with Melissa Ross on First Coast Connect. He said that he had asked to wear a mask and gloves during his shifts, but was told by management that in order to do so, he would need a doctor's note. He asked to remain anonymous because he feared losing his job.

At first, he said, the prevailing attitude was that wearing a mask could scare customers because they would assume someone wearing a mask is sick.

“Now, I would say 1-in-8 customers is coming in wearing a mask...1-in-5 is coming in wearing gloves. So, the more that we hear from customers who are concerned that we're not wearing masks or gloves, it doesn't seem to hold up with time that it would scare customers. It seems like the opposite is scaring customers,” he said.

Before it announced the mask and glove policy later on Monday, the grocery chain also said it was installing plexiglass shields at registers, customer service desks and pharmacies. Installations are expected to be complete within two weeks. Additonally, the grocer is putting up in-store signage and will be making public address announcements reminding customers and associates of social distancing.

Petitions online are asking that Publix employees be allowed to wear personal protective equipment and receive hazard pay.

In the past week, a Publix employee in Miami tested positive for coronavirus, as did another in Cumming, Georgia, and a Winn-Dixie employee reportedly tested positive in one of the chain’s Louisiana stores. The cases aren’t limited to grocery store employees. Amazon warehouses and colleges and universities have also reported infections.

When the Publix spokesperson circled back with WJCT Monday afternoon, she also noted:

“In addition to these measures and to address the health of our customers and associates, we continue to be keenly focused on intensive, ongoing protective measures in all our stores. These efforts are in line with guidance from the CDC, local and state health departments and include [among others]:

  • A heightened ongoing disinfection program focusing on high-touch surfaces like touch pads, door and drawer handles, phones and computers.
  • Sanitization of stores with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case.   
  • Quarantine and paid leave for 14 days for any associate who tests positive for COVID-19 to recover from the illness.
  • Notification, quarantine and paid leave for up to 14 days for associates who have been in close contact with the associate who tests positive for COVID-19.
  • Visual reminders of appropriate six-foot spacing via marked lines at registers.
  • Adjusted store hours to allow more time to conduct additional disinfection measures and restock shelves. 

“We are thankful to our customers for continuing to trust us with providing goods and services in our communities and taking personal precautionary measures before visiting us,” Brous said.

Meanwhile, Amazon and Instacart employees are set to strike this week to demand more safety measures and higher pay as they continue to work while others isolate for safety. The strike follows Amazon’s and Instacart’s plans to hire mass amounts of workers to keep up with online shopping demands.

But some businesses are offering bonuses or hazard pay as they continue to ask their workers to come in and look to hire new ones. CVS, Walmart and Kroger (and its affiliated chains) will be giving their employees bonuses, while Amazon, Target and BJs Wholesale Clubs plan to increase base pay.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Sarah Glenn can be reached at newsteam@wjct.org, 904-358-6317. Heather Schatz can be reached at hschatz@wjct.org, 904-358-6334 or on Twitter at @heatherschatz.