Dollar General stores, others set specific hours for older shoppers for their protection

Stores around the U.S. and the globe are taking extra steps to help protect the elderly population, which is considered the most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.

Their efforts come as President Donald Trump urged all older Americans to stay home during a set of sweeping guidelines on Monday.

Dollar General stores throughout the states announced plans to dedicate the first hour of each shopping day to senior shoppers, starting on Tuesday.

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Customers wait on line outside a supermarket, Monday, March 16, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Customers wait on line outside a supermarket, Monday, March 16, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

"Dollar General is strongly encouraging that the first hour of operations each day be dedicated solely for the shopping needs of senior customers, who are one of the groups most vulnerable to the COVID-19 coronavirus," a company statement said. "General wants to provide these at-risk customers with the ability to purchase the items they need and want at the beginning of each day to avoid busier and more crowded shopping periods."

Other customers will have to plan around this window. Store hours are also closing one hour earlier to protect their employees and allow them to clean and re-stock store shelves.

While most stores in the U.S. have not implemented a specific timeframe to assist the older population, a North Carolina woman has started going on grocery runs for her elderly neighbors.

“The idea actually came about when I called my grandfather the other day,” Becky Hoeffler told WNCN-TV. “He told me, ‘I’m on my way to the grocery store’ and I was just kind of concerned because he’s 91 and I thought, ‘is there a reason you have to go to the grocery store?'”

Hoeffler was worried about her elderly neighbors possibly catching the virus that has infected over 4,100 people in 49 states across the U.S. She works at home -- like many Americans now -- and is able to go on runs during her lunch break.

“Am I excited that I’m probably going to get a sweet loaf of banana bread from my neighbor, Patti, because of this, yes,” Hoeffler told the station. “Either way though, I think being able to help people and being able to help your neighbor is one of the most American things that you can do."

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The Australian grocery chain Woolworths announced temporary measures in their stores to help the elderly obtain essential items in a less crowded environment on Monday.

“We’re launching a dedicated shopping hour in our stores to help support the needs of the elderly and people with disability in the community," the company said on Facebook. "From tomorrow [March 17] until at least Friday, we’ll be opening exclusively for them to shop from 7-8 am, where permitted."

In Ireland, one branch of a popular British supermarket chain, Iceland will also have a senior shopping hour.

“The store is fully cleaned every morning, anyway, so the store is always at its cleanest and tidiest (in the morning),” manager Danny Burke, 37, told TODAY Food. “The elderly will be able to come in and they won’t be intimidated by the big crowds and people rushing around trying to grab anything.”

Publix, Kroger, and Walmart all announced measures to change their store hours in the U.S. Publix announced over the weekend it will close two hours early, to give employees time to restock produce and sanitize shelves.

"Publix will continue to focus on keeping our associates healthy — and our stores open and stocked — to serve and support all our communities," said Todd Jones, Publix CEO, said in a statement.

Kroger was also changing hours in some areas "based on local circumstances."

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Walmart stores that are normally open 24 hours are now be limited from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., the company said late on Saturday and implemented on Sunday. Other stores, which are typically open until midnight, will have reduced hours.