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Publix now allows certain employees to wear masks and gloves

No cloth or reusable masks, though, and some workers are prohibited from wearing them at all. What’s more, they must bring their own masks.

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Before this week, Publix cashiers weren’t allowed to wear gloves or face masks while handling orders and checking out customers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Lakeland-based chain has now created a new voluntary mask and glove policy, according to handouts provided to employees. Publix says PPE — personal protection equipment — can be worn for certain employees’ “personal comfort.”

But gloves will only be provided while supplies last and only to pharmacy and customer-service employees. And employees are on their own finding disposable dust or surgeon masks. The store won’t provide them because of the national shortage. The policy explicitly says reusable or cloth masks are prohibited.

Employees have been wearing masks at other supermarkets, including Wal-Mart, Winn-Dixie and Kroger stores nationwide.

In a statement sent to the Times, Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said, “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 handouts to employees also note that the store’s food-service workers may not wear face masks of any kind and that they will continue to wear gloves as they always have.

Commercially available surgical masks are on backorder for several months at websites such as Amazon.

Publix tells its employees in the handouts that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recommend that people “who are well” wear masks or gloves to protect themselves.

The only employees permitted to wear gloves are those who handle cash. If Publix runs out of the gloves, employees can bring their own. Cloth and latex gloves are not permitted.

“Remember gloves can spread infectious disease as easily as your bare hands,” Publix says in the handouts.

The company reminds employees to replace their gloves regularly, especially if they’re dirty, torn, if they’ve come in contact with the face or mouth, or if they’ve come in contact with blood or leaky meat packages.

Employees had been discussing why they couldn’t wear masks and gloves for weeks on message boards such as Reddit. More than 7,500 Publix employees also have signed a CoWorker.org petition asking for hazard pay of at least time-and-a-half while working through the pandemic. The petition says Publix employs about 89,000 part-time workers who do not receive paid time off for sick leave.

Publix says any employee found to have COVID-19 will be placed on paid leave for 14 days. Those who have been in “close contact” with that employee will also receive up to 14 days of paid leave.

The store has installed plexiglass barriers at its pharmacies, customer service desks and cash registers. Publix also says it has a heightened disinfection program that focuses on touch pads, handles, phones and computers.

Retailers are taking a number of steps to stop the spread of coronavirus, driven in part by government requirements that they maintain social distancing among customers.

At Target, for example, signs at the front of stores and floor decals at the checkout lanes identify where people should stand. In addition, check-out lanes are cleaned after each transaction and their use is rotated to allow for deep-cleaning.

Winn-Dixie’s parent company Southeastern Grocers has supplied its employees with disposable gloves and hand sanitizer.

Meantime, Walmart has announced plans to begin checking employees for even mild fevers with infrared thermometers. Employees with 100 degrees or higher temperature will be sent home.

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