• Grocery stores have been one of the few public places to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • As lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders start to end around the US, and the pandemic enters a new phase here, it’s safe to say that shoppers are going to be visiting grocery stores and supermarkets in even greater numbers soon.
  • Even with social distancing guidelines and other coronavirus-related safety measures, there’s one place above all others inside the store to be aware of as the most dangerous for workers and guests.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Whenever I’ve made a trip to the grocery store since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve donned a mask, been mindful about touching as little as possible, and tried to socially distance myself from the other shoppers according to the guidelines from health officials. Turns out, though, the most dangerous spot in grocery stores and supermarkets might be the place some of you least expect it — the cash register.

Here’s why. Take a retailer like Walmart, which has implemented coronavirus-related safety measures in its stores that include providing masks for workers and setting up plexiglass barriers to protect cashiers. But stop and think about the cashiers for a moment – they stand, for the entirety of their shift, at an arm’s length or so away from customers, which is much closer than the six-foot distance recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, every item they scan and bag has been grabbed and touched by customers and possibly other store employees, some of whom might have the virus.

As a reminder, the CDC has said you can contract the coronavirus after touching a surface that has traces of the virus on it. “The cashier spot is still the most dangerous since every customer passes this area and stands there for some time while groceries are moving down the counter,” Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Riverside, told CNN.

According to Brian Brown-Cashdollar, program director at the Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health, people at some of the greatest risk of contracting the coronavirus are those workers who have the most direct contact with the public. Cashiers, of course, fall squarely within that category.

Even so, big retailers like Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods, among others, are taking plenty of precautions. Those include signage in checkout lanes that direct people where to stand so that they’ll be appropriately spaced out, in addition to installing sneeze guards in checkout lines. One additional protection that more companies need to deploy is contactless payment, something that neither the Walmart or Kroger stores nearest to me offers.

Still, these protections only go so far. When you start to run down a checklist of all the many aspects of the in-store grocery experience today, the problem areas vis a vis coronavirus quickly pile up. Self-checkout lines are a problem, for example, because customers frequently need assistance, so workers have to go over to them and violate the social distancing guidelines. A Target worker told CNN that guests will frequently try to talk to workers around the plexiglass barrier. And when store guests buy alcohol, they have to remove their mask so that their face can be compared against their license — if they’re even wearing a mask at all, something that’s being enforced in a haphazard fashion around the country.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.