‘Turned upside down’

Published 4:09 pm Friday, March 20, 2020

Hy-Vee employees in overdrive to meet needs during pandemic


Albert Lea Hy-Vee Store Director Jeff Thompson describes it as a flip of a light switch. 

That’s how drastic the change has been between the time before the threat of COVID-19 came to the area and now when numerous businesses have had to close or alter their services and people are flooding grocery stores.

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Thompson said his staff — made up of 250 part-time and full-time employees — have adjusted their schedules to meet the demand and have implemented many safety precautions both for customers and staff. 

The store hours for the public have been changed to allow employees time to stock shelves and clean and sanitize the store, and an hour has been set up in the mornings from 7 to 8 a.m. for only seniors, expectant mothers and others who are considered high-risk for developing the virus. 

There are three people dedicated to extra cleaning precautions: one for cleaning the handles of carts before they are given to customers and the other two for cleaning surfaces that customers and employees might come in contact with, such as handles. 

The store on Thursday announced it would not allow reusable bags until further notice since it is difficult to monitor their cleanliness. 

Thompson said in the coming days, temporary plexiglass window panels are also slated to be installed at checkouts. A press release said the panels are being installed at the checkout, as this is the point in the store visit where customers and employees are in closest contact. In the aisles or at service counters, customers and employees have more flexibility in placing distance between themselves but the setup of the checkout limits that ability.

“We’re taking every precaution we can to keep our employees and customers safe,” Thompson said. 

He reassured the community the store is ordering everything it can; however, some orders are being reduced based on availability. 

“The entire supply chain is strained right now,” he said, referencing everything from manufacturers and warehouse staff to truck drivers and grocery stores. For example, he said, Kemps has stopped producing skim and whole milk and is only producing 1% and 2% milk.  

The most sought-after items are toilet paper, soaps, sanitizer, and cough and cold medications. 

He said bath tissue and hand sanitizer are given to the stores on an allocation basis, meaning he can’t order it — it is simply shipped when it is available. 

The store is limiting customers to one package per household. 

He said the biggest question he gets revolves around whether the business has toilet paper. He said he understands why this is important but emphasized he does not know how much the store will get or when it will get it, and it is doing the best it can to meet demands of customers. 

He asked customers to have patience. 

“The team is working tirelessly and relentlessly to make sure they have what they need,” he said. 

Aside from the special hour from 7 to 8 a.m. for the elderly, expectant mothers and others considered high-risk, the store is open to the remainder of the public from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. The pharmacy is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The wine and spirits portion of the business is open normal hours, as is Hy-Vee Gas. 

“Our whole world has been turned upside down, but customers have been overwhelmingly positive in their support,” Thompson said.