Times Standard (Eureka)
Grocers remain cautious ahead of tier changes
As Humboldt County moves into the orange tier, grocers and other local businesses continue to remain cautious with their reopening plans.
Eureka Natural Foods administration officer Gregory Fillmore shared his store and its ownership group is choosing to take a more restricted approach in their reopening strategy after constant movements between the California Department of Public Health’s purple and red tier levels in the past year. He stated the store would wait until the county enters the orange tier and remains at that level before discussing their next step.
“If we are actually moved into the orange tier and (the county) stays there, we will consider opening up more, but to be super honest, we’ve come out of purple and red tier so many times that we try not to change our policies and procedures so we are not changing what we do with our customers every week or two,” Fillmore said. “We’re not really interested in opening up our seating area then have to potentially close it two weeks later, which we have seen other places have to do.”
In addition to not having to deal with constantly changing operations and capacity levels, the store will continue to operate in a more restricted manner to maintain a safer shopping environment for its customer base, with social distancing markers still on the floor and signs with the store’s mask rules, among other measures.
“Being an organic foods store, so many people who shop here are immune-compromised or people who have to be careful with what they put in their body, so we will always err on the side of caution with our customers and employees,” Fillmore said. “We will roll back even slower than what the state and county say.”
At Wildberries Marketplace in Arcata, general manager Aaron Gottschalk is also remaining cautious. The store is still requiring shoppers to wear masks and to socially distance. Staff also are satirizing every handbasket and cart after use.
While the manager is approaching loosening restrictions with caution, they are opting to follow the CDPH’s guidelines for capacity and operations.
“When we came into the red tier, we were able to double our occupancy,” Gottschalk said. “We had been limiting our customers to 40 (under purple tier restrictions), and when we went into the red tier, we were able to go into 80 so we opened up our store a little bit more and we reopened our restroom, which was welcome news for our customers because we didn’t feel safe having our restroom open in the purple tier.”
The COVID-19 vaccines becoming more available to grocery workers and the agriculture sector has been welcomed by both store administrators in their efforts to maintain their workers safe. Fillmore shared most of his staff is vaccinated, whereas just over half of Gottschalk’s staff has received the vaccine.
“Most of our staff is vaccinated at this point and we’re excited to get on with this chapter, but we’re going to continue to err on the side of caution,” Fillmore said.
“The county has been sending us emails with a link for our team members to go to a vaccination clinic over the last few weeks,” Gottschalk shared about his store’s vaccination process. “We were originally going to be first as essential workers but we just got pushed back and pushed back but once it opened up for supermarket and food and agriculture workers and people like us, the county started working with us much more consistently helping our staff get vaccinated.”
On its end, the Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce is encouraging its members to practice best hygiene recommendations as laid out in the county’s reopening certification website. Chamber CEO and president Donna Wright said her organization looks forward to entering the less severe orange-tier restrictions, and that many member businesses have supported their staff in receiving a vaccine.
“Many have said that it is a relief to receive their vaccinations. Front line workers have commented they had no idea how stressed they have been worrying that they would take COVID home to their families,” Wright shared.
Ahead of the transition from red tier to orange tier, county health officer Dr. Ian Hoffman expressed caution in regards to reopening too fast.
“I think what we’re seeing across the country, and lots of states is worrisome. California has not taken that approach obviously and so we feel strongly that these measures will be protective, (and) will continue to protect us,” Hoffman said during his media availability on March 30.
“I think the sentiment right now and in public health is that we are concerned that we might be losing ground by things going too fast, with just not enough vaccine out there,” Hoffman added.