There's no way to sugarcoat it: COVID is surging again, this time with a variant that causes more infections and spreads faster than early forms of COVID-19. According to the CDC, the Delta variant is nearly twice as contagious as previous COVID-19 strains, and some data suggests Delta may cause more severe illness in unvaccinated people. With the unvaccinated and immunocompromised at severe risk and hyperlocal outbreaks surging, this variant is not just infecting populous cities or tourist destinations—it's devastating small, rural towns all across America.
IGA retailers are stepping up to protect employees and shoppers again, but it's no easy task.
"This time around, people have gotten used to life without restrictions, and once that happens, it's understandably difficult to put the horse back in the barn," IGA CEO John Ross says. "But the reality is that people are afraid. Again, our most at-risk citizens are, well, at risk; but this time we're also seeing infections increase in younger people and children. As an independent grocer, it is our privilege to serve our communities. What we do matters. And what matters now is making sure our associates and our shoppers are safe."
With that in mind, we've gathered the latest information and resources from the CDC and NGA to arm you with the tools you need to make decisions, communicate those decisions, and run your store during this ongoing and tenuous time.
It’s been just over two weeks since the CDC announced updated masking guidance for all, including fully vaccinated people. To review, the guidance says:
To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission."
At press time, most of the U.S. is in an area of substantial or high transmission, as illustrated by the CDC's COVID Data Tracker below (red and orange are high and substantial, respectively).
As it relates to wearing masks in store, as always, retailers and associates must adhere to state and local mandates, but NGA’s outside council, Olsson Frank Weeda, issued a letter to members recommending grocers require their employees and shoppers to wear masks, and IGA CEO John Ross has the same recommendation. "As tiring as it is, asking your associates to wear masks shows we care for our people and our shoppers, just like we care for our communities overall," Ross says.
IGA has two new mask signage options for retailers looking to institute mask policies: one for areas of the country where local mandates require mask wearing, and one for areas where there is no state or local mandate. Click the signs below to download a printable PDF, or access these and other virus-related signage here for purchase and/or download.
We know that masks and out of stocks are hot button issues with frustrated shoppers and tired employees. And while arming your shoppers—and associates—with knowledge is the best defense against conflicts and misunderstandings, conflicts may still happen. Retailers and associates can learn how to prevent or de-escalate common conflicts, like mask policy enforcement, with customers in this free conflict resolution class from the IGA Coca-Cola Institute.
Additionally, retailers can use these social media best practices to communicate any COVID-related policies and guidelines.
- Post store guidelines
Just as it's important to post new signage about mask policies in your store, it's equally important to keep shoppers updated about policy changes on social media. Doing so creates a clear understanding of what is expected of the shopper before they enter the store, and may help diffuse issues at store level. Download social media graphics, like the mask signage above, here.
- Engage with customer comments and answer questions in a timely manner
With emotions running high, the last thing you want is for an issue a shopper called out on Facebook to turn into a full-blown crisis. If a shopper posts a complaint on your page, quickly acknowledge the shopper, thank them for reaching out, and move the conversation into a private message or email so you can learn more detail. This technique allows others to see that you are responsive, while moving the conversation away from a public forum reduces the risk of additional negative feedback on your page.
- Avoid boosting COVID-related posts
Facebook is prohibiting ads that commercially promote certain medical supplies and other high-demand products related to COVID-19, as they have been associated with exploitative behavior. For IGA retailers, this means any post referring to hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, and masks—even it's just an employee wearing a mask—cannot be boosted. Doing so can result in your post being removed, or your account being temporarily suspended.
With misinformation about vaccines spreading as rapidly as the Delta variant, it's more important than ever that employees have the information they need to make informed decision around the vaccine.
“It's paramount right now that we help employees understand the vaccine is important for their safety, the safety of shoppers, and the safety of the business,” says Ross. "Being open, transparent, and ready to answer questions is the key to supporting your employees in their decisions." Retailers can communicate the benefits with this CDC toolkit, which includes a letter to employees, fact sheets, printable stickers, and more.
In addition to the ongoing challenges of communicating new COVID policies to shoppers, retailers nationwide are facing a very real labor shortage. IGA recently conducted an employment survey to gain insights into why people aren't returning to work, which Ross shared in a webinar earlier today. We will be detailing the findings and sharing the webinar recording in the coming week, which will include solutions and best practices retailers can use to hire and retain employees throughout the pandemic and beyond. Stay tuned to The IGA Minute for those updates.
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