Giant Eagle is temporarily bringing back plastic bags at cash registers to help combat the contagious COVID-19, a novel coronavirus. The grocery store chain recently eliminated plastic bags from its Cuyahoga County locations on Jan. 1 in an effort to improve their sustainability practices.

To ensure the safety of the customers and employees, there will be a plexiglass window between the two at the register and customer service areas at Giant Eagle, Market District, pharmacies and GetGo locations, according to Giant Eagle spokeswoman Jannah Jablonowski.

Cuyahoga County’s plastic bag ban went into effect on Jan. 1 but will not be enforced until July 1. Councilwoman Sunny Simon, who introduced the county bag ban, said that she understands the temporary need for the grocery chain’s policy change.

Giant Eagle is taking other precautionary steps. There will be floor indicators and signage to encourage social distancing and shoppers are asked not to bring their reusable bags. Giant Eagle and GetGo stores are expected to have the plexiglass panels installed by the end of the week.

“When [the spread of COVID-19] started out, we all collectively in the grocery industry saw it coming. It became a need for evolved business practices but we didn’t know how quickly we would have to enact them or what measures we would have to take,” Ms. Jablonowski said on Tuesday.

“It seems like the next natural step to make sure that we’re doing everything we can for our guests and team members to make sure we’re creating a healthy shopping and work environment,” she added.

On Tuesday, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said that there were 564 confirmed cases and eight deaths in the state from COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 can spread between people who are in close contact and through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Ms. Jablonowski said that right now there is not an official timeline to eliminate plastic bags again. “This is a necessary but temporary measure.

“We’re still very committed to overall sustainability of the planet and working toward a single use plastic-free future, but given the current state of affairs we wanted to bring plastic back out of an abundance of caution,” she said.

Purchases at Giant Eagle locations will be bagged in paper or plastic at no charge, she added. When the company eliminated plastic bags in January, guests could buy paper bags for 10 cents or bring reusable bags. At that same time, Giant Eagle enacted a promotion for “one perk per reusable bag” to be used at GetGo gas stations for discounts or rebates on food purchases. Ms. Jablonowski said that program has also been temporarily suspended.

There are more than 470 Giant Eagle locations throughout western Pennsylvania, north central Ohio, northern West Virginia, Maryland and Indiana.

Giant Eagle is being transparent about reintroducing plastic bags, Ms. Jablonowski said.

“We support Giant Eagle’s temporary pause on its reusable bags efforts as we all take every precaution to ensure the safety of ourselves and those we love,” Ms. Simon said in a statement. She introduced the plastic bag ban last year. “We look forward to recommitting ourselves to preserving our communities through the reduction of single-use plastics in the weeks ahead.”

Co-owner of Heinen’s Grocery Store Jeff Heinen was a supporter of reusable bags last fall. He voiced concern over the county’s ban on plastic bags because switching to paper would cost his business an additional $2 million to $3 million per year. Mr. Heinen did not return a call from the Times.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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