At least one employee at the Giant in Columbia Heights has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Kroger and Giant Food announced Tuesday that they will begin to limit the number of customers in their stores to allow for social distancing measures. The move comes after weeks of requests made by grocery workers to cap how many people are in the store at once.
Kroger, the parent company of Harris Teeter and Giant Food, says by the end of the week it will cut the occupancy of Harris Teeter to half, and Giant Food to 20%.
Giant Food will also implement one-way aisle traffic next week. Arrow markers on the floor will designate traffic direction through the aisles and associates will be available to point customers in the correct directions. These measures come as the companies' workers have been requesting paid child care, access to testing and personal protective gear to wear during their shifts.
"We are continuing to learn and adapt to the new ways of working during this challenging time and believe that these additional measures will allow us to further promote safe social distancing practices in our aisles to keep our customers and associates safe," said Ira Kress, interim president at Giant Food, in a statement.
Kroger says it will monitor the number of customers in its stores using a software that the company already uses to get a count of how many people are entering and exiting stores.
The policy changes come as workers at many grocery stores have asked company executives, and local and state leaders to designate grocery store workers as "essential employees" so they can have better access to tests. Nationwide, at least four grocery store workers have died due to the coronavirus.
Jonathan Williams with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, the union that represents thousands of workers at various grocery stores across the region, says the companies' efforts are a good start.
"We see all of these as progress in the right direction," Williams said. "But we're calling for even more measures to be taken."
"The grocery store chains we work for already provide paid leave to anyone who is diagnosed with COVID-19," Williams said. "The problem is without testing available, without our members being designated the "first responders" they really are, it's hard to know who might test positive."
Some regional leaders, like Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, designated grocery store workers as "essential personnel" in giving them paid child care, but fell short of access to testing.
Stores like Walmart, Safeway and Target have also taken additional measures to designate special shopping hours for senior citizens, and are giving associates personal protective equipment, sanitizing and disinfecting more often, and adding plexiglass partitions at registers to protect workers.
Last week, an employee at a Giant Food in Columbia Heights in Northwest D.C. tested positive for the virus.