SALEM — Gov. Charlie Baker ordered several new measures aimed at protecting grocery store workers and customers from coronavirus on Wednesday, including a ban on reusable bags being brought into stores and suspending local bans on single-use plastic bags.
The measures, which Baker said are necessary "to make sure we make appropriate accommodations for our most vulnerable residents," also include requirements that grocery stores provide at least one hour a day exclusively for adults over 60 to shop, orders stores to shut down any self-serve food stations, and requires grocery stores and pharmacies to offer "a host of sanitation options," including hand sanitize and disinfecting wipes to clean shopping carts and points of frequent contact."
The governor also ordered stores to mark a line six feet from the checkout to enable appropriate social distancing.
Baker also said store employees are being told to stay home if they are not feeling well, and that stores are being asked to provide alternative work assignments with less exposure to the public for workers in high-risk categories.
The ban on reusable bags comes after three of the state's largest communities took measures to temporarily delay or suspend bans on single-use plastic bags since last week. Worcester decided last week to delay implementation of its bag ban last week; Cambridge and Boston followed this week.
Baker said that during the pandemic, customers may not bring reusable bags into stores, and stores cannot charge for the paper and in some communities, thicker plastic bags offered by stores.
Several grocery chains had made moves to ban the bags this week.
"In these difficult times, the bag order allowing plastic bags, preventing reusable bags, and prohibiting bag fees, is welcomed," said Beverly's Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. "This is good for the store employees and the customers for better and safer service. Allowing plastic bags will also ease a growing shortage of paper bags, which are also becoming more expensive."
The measure had been called for last week by a supermarket trade group, the Massachusetts Food Association, which had pointed to concerns about workers coming into contact with contaminated bags. A spokesman for the organization told The Salem News Friday that it wanted to follow the example of coffee chains that had banned reusable mugs over health concerns.
Area health officials, however, were apparently caught off-guard by the idea. Staffers in Salem and Beverly's health departments said earlier this week that there hadn't been any discussions of the situation to their knowledge. Messages for health officials in Danvers and Peabody were not returned.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.