What to know about the new Phase 2 reopening rules for retail stores in Massachusetts

The next phase of the state's reopening plan will allow customers back inside jewelry shops and clothing stores, but only under a slate of new safety standards.

Closed retail stores during the coronavirus outbreak line a deserted Newbury Street, Saturday, April 4, 2020, in Boston. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Closed retail stores on Newbury Street last month during the coronavirus outbreak. –Michael Dwyer / AP

Browsing is back — or at least it could be later this month.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration released guidelines this week for when nonessential retail businesses in Massachusetts, which are currently limited to curbside pickup due to the coronavirus, can allow customers inside their stores when Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan begins.

The new rules will limit the number of people allowed inside to 40 percent of the store’s legal occupancy or eight individuals per 1,000 square feet, along with other social distancing, hygiene, and staffing guidelines.

The Phase 2 rules will also apply to the essential retailers, such as grocery stores, that have remained open during the pandemic, superseding the previous guidelines. The only exception is for farmers’ markets, which fall under separate Department of Public Health guidelines.

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Malls will be allowed to reopen under the same capacity limits, though play areas, arcades, and food court seating areas must remain closed. Businesses serving food and beverages at malls will also be limited to takeout or delivery service during Phase 2.

Fitting rooms at clothing stores will also remain closed.

The guidelines come after business groups argued that the decision to only allow curbside pickup at nonessential stores in Massachusetts during Phase 1 was overly restrictive — particularly for jewelry, clothing, and shoe stores, which “don’t lend themselves to curbside selling situations.”

Baker, however, noted that the risk of transmitting the coronavirus was significantly higher indoors compared to outside.

Officials will decide this Saturday whether Phase 2 of the reopening plan will begin Monday or at a later date, depending on whether the rate of positive COVID-19 tests and hospitalizations in the state, among other key metrics, continue to decline. Massachusetts remains among the states hardest hit by the pandemic, in terms of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Here’s a look the complete checklist retail businesses will have to follow when Phase 2 begins:

Social distancing

  • Each retail store must monitor customer entries and exits and limit occupancy at all times to the greater of the following:
    • Eight persons (including store staff) per 1,000 square feet of accessible, indoor space; or
    • 40 percent of the retail store’s maximum permitted occupancy as documented in its occupancy permit on record with the municipal building department or other municipal record holder
    • Retail stores for which no permitted occupancy limitation is on record may rely on the eight persons per 1,000 square feet method
  • Operators of enclosed shopping malls and other indoor, multi-tenant retail spaces must monitor customer and worker entries and exits to common areas and limit occupancy of common areas at all times to 40 percent of maximum permitted occupancy levels
  • All occupant counts and calculations shall include customers and workers
  • Within enclosed shopping malls and other indoor multi-tenant retail spaces:
    • Retailers or restaurants serving food and beverage may only provide take-out or delivery service
    • Any seating areas, including food courts, must be closed
    • Any children’s play areas must be closed
    • All arcades must be closed
  • Stores must put markers outside of the store to ensure six feet of distance for customers who are waiting outside to enter
  • If the store offers delivery, curbside pickup capabilities, or limited “appointment only shopping,” customers should be encouraged to use those methods before coming into the store
  • Grocery stores and retail stores with a pharmacy department must provide dedicated periods of at least one hour each day of operation, in the early morning, for adults 60 years of age and older. These hours must be conspicuously posted
  • Other retail stores are encouraged to offer exclusive hours or other accommodations for those in high-risk populations as defined by the CDC
  • Ensure separation of six feet or more between individuals where possible:
    • Close or reconfigure worker common spaces and high density areas where workers are likely to congregate (e.g., break rooms, eating areas) to allow social distancing
    • Physical partitions must separate workstations that cannot be spaced out (partitions must be at least six feet in height)
    • Install physical barriers for checkout stations where possible, otherwise maintain six feet distance where not possible
    • Install visual social distancing markers to encourage customers to remain six feet apart (e.g., lines outside of the stores if applicable, lines to make payments, lines to use the restroom)
  • Establish directional aisles to manage customer flow for foot traffic, if possible, to minimize contact (e.g., one-way entrance and exit to the store, one-way aisles). Post clearly visible signage regarding these policies
  • Improve ventilation for enclosed spaces where possible (e.g., open doors and windows)
  • Stagger lunch and break times, regulating max number of people in one place and ensuring at least six feet of physical distancing
  • Require face coverings for all workers and customers, except where unsafe due to medical condition or disability
  • Contactless payment methods are encouraged
  • Retailers must close salad bars and any other self-serve prepared or other open food stations, and must eliminate any open free samples or tastings
  • Retailers may not permit sampling or application of personal goods (i.e., make-up, perfume, lotion)
  • Fitting rooms must remain closed and customers may not try on clothes

Hygiene

  • Disinfect shared equipment, such as cash registers, intercoms, tagging machines before use by another employee
  • Ensure access to handwashing facilities on site, including soap and running water, wherever possible and encourage frequent handwashing; alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol may be used as an alternative
  • Supply workers at workplace location with adequate cleaning products (e.g., sanitizer, disinfecting wipes)
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol should be made available at entrances and throughout floor areas for both workers and customers
  • Avoid sharing equipment and supplies between workers
  • Post visible signage throughout the site to remind workers of hygiene and safety protocols
  • Prohibit the use of reusable bags; stores are permitted to use plastic or paper bags

Staffing and operations

  • Provide training to workers on up-to-date safety information and precautions including hygiene and other measures aimed at reducing disease transmission, including:
    • Social distancing, hand-washing, proper use of face coverings
    • Self-screening at home, including temperature or symptom checks
    • Importance of not coming to work if ill
    • When to seek medical attention if symptoms become severe
    • Which underlying health conditions may make individuals more susceptible to contracting and suffering from a severe case of the virus
  • Adjust workplace hours and shifts (leverage working teams with different schedules or staggered arrival/departure) to minimize contact across workers and reduce congestion at entry points
  • Businesses should reduce operating hours to allow for ongoing off-hour sanitation and cleaning
  • Limit visitors and service providers on site; shipping and deliveries should be completed in designated areas
  • Workers must stay home if feeling ill
  • Workers who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 according to the Centers for Disease Control (e.g., due to age or underlying conditions) are encouraged to stay home
  • Workers are strongly encouraged to self-identify symptoms or any close contact to a known or suspected COVID-19 case to the employer
  • Encourage workers who test positive for COVID-19, to disclose to the employer of the office for purposes of cleaning/disinfecting and contact tracing. If the employer is notified of a positive case at the workplace, the employer should notify the local Board of Health (LBOH) where the workplace is located and work with them to trace likely contacts in the workplace and advise workers to isolate and self-quarantine. Testing of other workers may be recommended consistent with guidance and / or at the request of the LBOH
  • Post notice to workers and customers of important health information and relevant safety measures as outlined in the Commonwealth’s Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplace
  • For in-home delivery of products, such as furniture and appliances, screen customers for symptoms prior to workers entering the house. Delay delivery if customer indicates potential COVID-19 positive person in the household

Cleaning and disinfecting

  • Conduct frequent cleaning and disinfection of site (at least daily and more frequently if feasible)
  • Keep cleaning logs that include date, time, and scope of cleaning
  • Conduct frequent disinfecting of heavy transit areas and high-touch surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, bathrooms, baskets, carts, staff break rooms)
  • In event of a positive case, shut down site for a deep cleaning and disinfecting of the workplace in accordance with current CDC guidance
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