Coronavirus

How Safe Are Santa Cruz County Grocery Stores from Covid-19?

New Leaf extending its hours, as grocery shopping is relatively low-risk

Shopping in a grocery store isn’t particularly dangerous, especially whenever everyone wears a face covering, the county health officer says.

Like many stores, New Leaf Community Markets scaled back its hours in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, after both Santa Cruz County and the state of California issued stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But New Leaf has extended its hours again, bringing the store closer to its regular schedule. All Santa Cruz County New Leaf locations are now open until 9pm. Early morning hours are still reserved for the elderly and vulnerable populations. For a full schedule, visit newleaf.com/store-hours.

New Leaf spokesperson Lindsay Gizdich tells GT via email that the grocery store chain “originally limited store hours to provide staff with time to keep the shelves stocked in response to the unusual shopping patterns”—ones that store workers experienced when the risk of community spread was growing in Santa Cruz County.  

It may seem reasonable to assume that going grocery shopping can be dangerous business—what with the often-long lines to get into stores and the nervous glances customers shoot one another whenever someone gets within their six feet of personal space. But Public Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said in an April 23 press conference that shopping in a grocery store isn’t particularly dangerous, especially whenever everyone wears a face covering.

“The usual grocery shopping practices are very low-risk for being exposed to Covid-19,” Newel said last month. “In general, a person would need to be within six feet of someone without a face covering for several minutes or even longer in order to be at any significant risk for getting Covid-19. So it would be unusual for a shopper to be that close to an employee for that long of a period of time.”

Newel made those comments in the early days of a cluster of Covid-19 cases centered around New Leaf’s Aptos location. In all, New Leaf tested 80 employees, with 13 of those tests coming back positive. All of the infected employees have recovered. One of the 13 sick workers did infect a member of their own household. Other than that, the cluster did not appear to spread out of the store, and there were no known instances of the sick employees infecting any customers of New Leaf, which was locally owned until 2015 and is now owned by a Korean company.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently confirmed that the coronavirus does not appear to easily transmit via surfaces, although it still could be possible for someone to get sick from touching a surface that has been infected.

British infectious disease specialist Muge Cevik recently told a Bloomberg columnist briefly walking past someone or making an errand to the market both probably pose low risks. By contrast, he said that dining together and being on public transit likely pose greater risks.

Special protocols are in place at all of the county’s grocery stores, including local ones like Shoppers Corner, Staff of Life and the Food Bin. Some store guidelines come from a county-issued social distancing protocol form that business owners are required to fill out. Also, a health order from Newel mandates that everyone wear a face covering before entering an essential business such as a grocery store.

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