Food industry wants COVID-19 restrictions eased | Regional News

BOSTON — As the state enters the final stages of its reopening plan, retailers want to cancel senior hours, one-way aisles and other restrictions they say are no longer needed.

In a recent letter to Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, the Massachusetts Food Association asked that the remaining restrictions on grocers and other retailers be lifted.

“As COVID-19 rates continue to decline and more seniors and the general public become vaccinated, we believe these restrictions have become outdated and no longer necessary,” wrote Brian Houghton, the association’s senior vice president of government affairs.

Houghton said most shoppers practice social distancing, but one-way aisles can “cause tension … if not strictly followed.”

“There is no proof that this requirement reduces exposure and may actually inhibit social distancing if a shopper has to wait in an aisle while another loiters to choose an item,” he wrote.

Another restriction the food industry wants lifted is senior hours at grocery stores and other outlets, which it says are ineffective. Houghton said stores should have the option to set aside senior hours but not be required to do so.

“With more and more seniors being vaccinated, Massachusetts is in a much better position than it was last year when this requirement was implemented, “he said.

The Food Association and other groups also want to resume salad bars and buffets, which Houghton said can be done in a safe manner following rules similar to those imposed on self-serve beverage stations.

The groups aren’t calling for the state to lift the indoor mask mandate, and many expect larger retailers will keep face covering requirements in place even after the state eases them.

Many retailers were ahead of the state last year on reconfiguring stores with one-way aisles and requiring customers to wear masks to limit spread of the virus.

In the future, some retailers worry that one-way lanes and other restrictions may lead to conflicts with customers who feel less obliged to observe them.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said his members are also pushing for the remaining restrictions to be eased.

The irony, he said, is that while Massachusetts leads most other states in vaccinations, it lags behind others in easing COVID-19 restrictions.

“The reality is senior hours and other restrictions just aren’t relevant anymore,” he said. “We need to catch up with where other states are on reopening.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.

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