Effective Wednesday, all Whole Foods in the U.S. and Canada will serve customers ages 60 and older one hour before opening stores to the public, the company said. On Thursday, the policy will be implemented in all Whole Foods in the U.K. for customers 70 and older.
In a similar effort, Target will be allocating the first shopping hour of every Wednesday for the elderly and customers with underlying health concerns only, the company’s CEO, Brian Cornell, said.
Health officials have stressed that those most at risk for developing a more serious case of COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus, are seniors and people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
“We are setting aside this time to help these customers, who national health authorities have identified as among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, feel more comfortable shopping our stores and helping to ensure they are able to get the items they need in a less crowded environment,” Whole Foods wrote in a personal note to community members Tuesday.
Whole Foods and Target stores are also slated to close earlier to give employees extra time to sanitize and re-stock shelves for the next shopping day.
Whole Foods stores will close two hours early and all Target stores will close no later than 9 p.m. local time. Any Target stores that regularly close earlier than 9 p.m. will continue to close at their normal time.
Although Whole Foods will close early, stores that offer pickup will continue to run those services on their regular schedules. The company will also continue to fulfill Prime delivery orders and “ensure” customers will still get their groceries "in a timely manner."
Retailers have increasingly been implementing new policies in an effort to adapt to the country's fast-changing needs as the virus continues to spread into communities around the world.
“For weeks, we've been responding to the impact of the coronavirus by taking care of our team, rigorously cleaning our stores and helping our guests find the food, medicine and other essentials they need for themselves and their families," Cornell said.
To date, there are more than 203,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and more than 8,000 people have died in the outbreak, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.