Paper or Plastic: On the Frontlines
It’s Official: Stay-At-Home in Leadville Today
On Wednesday, March 25, Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued a statewide Stay-At-Home order that will begin this morning initiating the state’s latest response efforts against the coronavirus. The law went into effect at 6 a.m. and will last through at least April 11.
The stay-at-home order is mandatory and includes the entire state. It requires people to remain in their homes unless they are going to and from work in a critical industry or doing an essential task like going to the grocery store or walking a pet. Playgrounds and picnic areas will be closed but many local parks and outdoor spaces will remain open for outdoor exercise. People who choose to exercise outdoors should continue practicing social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from other people.
Grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations will remain open and grocery delivery will be available as well as meal-delivery, drive-through, and take-out options. Liquor and cannabis stores will also remain open while enforcing social distancing. Roads will not close in Colorado. Officials say public transportation and ridesharing should be used for essential travel only. When possible, residents are asked to walk or drive themselves. According to the order, planes and other forms of travel should only be used if absolutely necessary.
Governor Polis: Stay At Home Orders
Dial 2-1-1 For Assistance
Yesterday, March 25 the Lake County Human Services Department activated the 211 phone system. This integrated system of independent information and referral call centers allows Colorado residents to simply dial 2-1-1 to be connected to community and social services. Your 2-1-1-call is free, confidential, multilingual and available 24-hours a day, and can provide information about financial assistance programs, health clinics, or counseling services. You do not have to give your name or personal details to get information.
Rocky Mountain High: It’s Essential
The rules for that #RockyMountainHigh keep changing as marijuana dispensaries across Colorado and in Leadville Today have been classified as “essential” and will remain open, for now.
“They don’t want to lose the taxes,” stated one dispensary employee when asked if she saw any additional restrictions coming down the COVID-19 pipeline concerning weed, which became legal in Colorado in 2012, generating more than one billion dollars in taxes for a variety of statewide programs and jobs, a good percent of it going towards education and schools.
Last Sunday, March 22 Colorado Gov. Jared Polis deemed marijuana dispensaries “critical” retail businesses in an executive order Sunday urging employers to reduce their in-person workforces, meaning they would stay open if other industries were forced to shutter to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. The governor’s order, however, will change how dispensaries do business. In-person sales are limited to medical patients only; recreational customers must order in advance for curbside pickup. The order is in effect from 8 p.m. on Tuesday until April 11, unless extended by the governor.
“Everyone needs their weed!” said another budtender. “It wouldn’t be good to cut that off.” Yes, there’s the indica, the sativa, and the workers, all deemed essential in the eyes of Colorado’s top leader, at least for now. Best to #stockup, but call ahead first, order online at Roots RX.
Paper or Plastic: On the Frontlines
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
It was easy to see that the weariness had set in. It had been one week since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic sending shockwaves through the world’s financial markets straight down to the local food market. The stress was showing on the frontlines at the Leadville Safeway store as the cashiers tried to keep up with the new regulations which seemed to be changing with each new transaction.
“We’re not allowed to touch anyone’s reusable bags anymore,” stated one cashier to another as they stayed busy ringing in customers’ orders. “They say the cloth can carry things.”
By the end of the exchange, the concern among customers had grown, prompting questions about how they could help these “essentials” more commonly known as their neighbors and friends. How were they holding up? As the daytime manager came through with a reiteration of the latest company policy, which was to NOT have their cashiers wear gloves nor use hand sanitizer, it was a resounding “Why?” from the people standing within earshot.
“We are encouraging hand-washing, you know with soap and water,” the retort was swift and cutting. It was followed by a series of groans from customers who simply understood an unreasonable management directive when they heard one. But what could they do? How could they help these dedicated clerks and stockers who were risking their own health by exchanging currency without any protective gear, sharing space with the public that was clearly a lot closer than the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendation of six feet, and regularly getting new orders from corporate, leaving them more exposed, than protected.
Fortunately, leadership appeared at the state level yesterday when Colorado Governor Jared Polis sent a letter to the Presidents of Albertsons Companies, which owns Safeway, encouraging new safety protocols for customers and employees. It may have rattled the cage for the food giant, effectively putting them on notice in the nicest way possible, but unless local officials are willing to lean in and do the right thing, the situation is likely to deteriorate, quickly.
“People have been pretty nasty,” shared one longtime worker. “It’s been hard.” Just then a discussion arose in the next aisle concerning the limit on how many packages of meat each customer could buy. By now that portion of ground beef had been carried around in that basket for at least 15 minutes. At the checkout stand, the package was placed to the side where a runner was on staff to return the restricted item back to the shelf, back to the refrigerated case. When asked whether anyone from public health, the agency charged to oversee food safety, had been in to talk to workers, the cashier slowly hung her head, shaking it from side to side.
Reports of management missteps leading to unethical and unsafe work practices in Leadville’s only grocery store are nothing new. But during the COVID-19 health crisis the work environment these Leadville locals are being asked to endure is pushing things to the brink. The regular drip, drip, drip of complaints from residents was transitioning into a steady stream.
On Monday, March 23 Leadville Today brought these and other concerns to the attention of the two agencies which are now charged to oversee food health and emergency public safety: Lake County Public Health Agency (LCPH) and the Lake County Office of Emergency Management (under the official state of emergency order issued by Lake County). While neither official addressed the issues, Public Information Officer Betty Benson replied: “The items you bring up are being worked (sic) and I anticipate being able to get an update back to you as soon as that information is available. So far as I can find none of these issues have been brought to public health, the Emergency Manager, the city or county.”
That was early Tuesday morning, March 24.
On Monday, March 23 after a spike in concerns about local employees, LT made a call to Safeway’s corporate headquarters. One of the questions asked was why an order for night-shift stockers to carry curfew paperwork was being required when no such order had been issued; no explanation was given. By the end of the day, after two voicemails (their process) and emails, a response came from Kris Staaf, Sr. Director of Public Affairs/Government Relations for Safeway/Albertson’s. LT shared that information with some of its contacts on the grocery store’s frontlines.
“About half of that is true…The plexiglass is not on the service desk nor the pharmacy…they put tape on the floor. Also, the pharmacy don’t deliver haha..”
Staaf is the same corporate spokesperson who handled the last public safety crisis at the store during the carbon monoxide leak in April 2018. That incident, which heated up the social media feeds, eventually led to some new coolers, finally bringing the store up to proper code. There were also lots of cosmetic upgrades put into place like the grocery store aisles being re-named after Leadville streets to give everyone that neighborly feel while shopping. While it was an improvement and nice to look at, the changes didn’t fully address the food safety issues. Would LCPH food inspectors change their methods to keep Lake County’s ONLY grocery store on a shorter regulatory leash? Would more testing be put in place?
Leadville Today has learned that there has not been a food inspection of that store since the COVID-19 health crisis began and what’s more, there has not been one since January 1, 2020. So when was the last inspection? If public health food inspectors can produce and share that document, this post will be updated.
For most consumers, the issues have not been permanently addressed. A 90-day gap – or more – between inspections may meet standard practices, but making sure that standards are practiced, well, that is the LCPH’s job. In fact, Safeway not only has a reputation locally which makes many “shop over the hill,” but last July one of LCPH’s often-touted “community health partners,” The Colorado Trust released a stinging report about the grocer’s unacceptable practices, especially in rural areas.
Certainly, local public health officials could no longer turn their heads. It was clear that corporate greed was leading to mismanagement, food safety issues and poor working conditions. Would public health officials use the report as leverage to continue to put pressure on the food chain and finally address how they were going to hold Leadville’s primary food distributor accountable? August came and went. Nothing. September came and went. Nothing. Surely something would be shared at the LCOEM bi-monthly meeting in October. It wasn’t.
No one wants Leadville’s only grocery store to close. The community relies on the food and the employees rely on these jobs, they truly are essential members of the Leadville community. And with today’s official Stay-At-Home order there’s little doubt that these dedicated cashiers and clerks are more critical than ever to get Lake County through the next several weeks.
But they need to be protected. They need to be respected. They need to be advocated for, so thank you, Governor Polis! Because when the coronavirus storm has finally passed, some public and elected officials may find that it is they who are not so “essential” after all.
Colorado Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, LLC, a media company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mental Health Message from Solvista