By Kevin L. Robinson and Eric S. Bartelt
DeCA public affairs specialist and PV Managing Editor
The Defense Commissary Agency announced several operational policies to help stores better serve customers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
These policies include the following actions:
• Effective immediately, a 100% ID card check at all commissaries, so that only authorized customers—this includes disabled veterans with a Veteran Health Indentification Card—will be able to shop. While this policy is in effect, visitors will not be allowed to enter the commissary. This is designed to help with social distancing and crowd control. Children under 10 with their parents don’t need an ID card.
• Effective as of March 15, to prevent customer-to-customer spread of germs, commissary cashiers no longer handle patron ID cards. Instead, customers will be asked to scan their own ID. Cashiers can use the handheld scanner if available or have the customer scan their own card.
• Effective as of March 19, all commissaries will suspend early bird shopping to allow more time to clean and restock the store.
• In a move to lessen panic-buying, the agency instructed its store directors worldwide to use their discretion in placing the shopping limits necessary to help maintain stock availability.
Retired Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, DOD special assistant for commissary operations, announced the shopping limits policy March 14 in response to a growing number of customers engaged in unauthorized purchases for the purposes of resale or hoarding.
The shopping directive gives store directors more authority to quickly tailor shopping limits, as required, to keep more products available for more customers, Bianchi said.
“These decisions should not contravene or override any restrictions or guidance provided by installation commanders,” Bianchi said. “However, in the absence of installation commander direction, our store directors are now authorized to make local decisions as they deem necessary to control stock shortages through instances such as panic buying and unauthorized purchases for resale.”
West Point’s Commissary Officer Carol Robertin has been working tirelessly with her employees to keep the shelves stocked for their patrons.
“Our distributors are working together with us to meet the unprecedented shopping volume,” Robertin said. “We are receiving shipments daily. Unfortunately, not everything is coming in that is ordered as suppliers are out of stock on some items. As soon as we receive the product, we ensure it goes right to the shelf.”
The West Point Commissary has placed limits on some items as they come in such as antibacterial gels, wipes and sprays, hand soap, bleach, toilet paper, tissues, chicken, milk, eggs and water, Robertin said.
As of Tuesday, Robertin said the West Point Commissary will open between 8-9 a.m. for the elderly, physically challenged and pregnant spouses who are at higher risk of COVID-19, in addition to its regular hours of 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Preventing virus spread at stores
The “No ID handling” policy is just one of many actions stores are implementing to help prevent COVID-19 exposure, said James “Jay” Hudson, principal deputy director of DeCA’s Store Operations Group.
“We consider the health and welfare of our customers and our employees our No. 1 concern,” Hudson said. “Our stores are following the highest standards of the Department of Defense’s health protection.”
Hudson also said DeCA encourages its employees to closely monitor their health, and asks them to stay home if they, or someone in their household, are sick.
Robertin added that employees are following the guidelines and working to maintain a safe and healthy shopping environment.
“We are thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing throughout the store,” Robertin said. “Janitorial employees are cleaning the restrooms every hour. Cashiers have been wiping down all contact surfaces to include registers and pin pads. Commissary employees have been sanitizing shopping carts, hand baskets, wiping down refrigerator and freezer door handles to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus.”
Social Distancing, keeping crowds calm and under control
The West Point Commissary, Robertin said, is currently maintaining social distancing procedure, which is allowing only 50 customers in the commissary at one time.
With that in mind, extra security is in place to help with controlling social distancing and crowd control.
“The Military Police and fire inspectors are assisting the commissary with the customers,” Robertin said. “To maintain social distancing, we are permitting 50 customers in the building at one time. MWR has kindly set up four tents to keep the customers out of the elements. Soldiers are walking the store to encourage social distancing.”
However, within the scope of the no more than 50 shoppers at one time, the commissary will limit one family member at a time, although a parent may escort their children, according to the U.S. Army Garrison West Point Live Safe page.
Despite what is an uncertain time and difficult situation for employees and customers alike, everyone has been showing integrity and a calmness during the hardship of the moment.
“The commissary employees are truly dedicated (to getting the job done) and the customers have been understanding and appreciate that we are open to support them during this trying time,” Robertin said. “All the employees are proud to work together as a team to support our mission and take care of the military and their families.”
Robertin said all the measures now in place at the commissary, “will not change until the coronavirus is tempered.”
Aside from the commissary, the Post Exchange will be open daily for vulnerable shoppers from 10-11 a.m., and then for all shoppers from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Commissary customers should continue to refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Coronavirus site at https://www.coronavirus.gov/ for updates and guidance regarding this virus. Updates related to the commissaries can be found on DeCA’s Coronavirus page at https://www.commissaries.com/coronavirus.