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Consumer expert Amy Davis answers your questions about retailers reopening May 1

(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
(AP Photo/Richard Shiro) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

HOUSTONQ: Which retailers are allowed to open Friday, May 1?

A: Retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls. But they will only be allowed to operate at 25% capacity. Museums and libraries will also be allowed to open at 25% capacity, but hands-on exhibits must remain closed.

Q: What do I need to do or wear if I want to shop on Friday?

A: This depends on where you shop. Each retailer can make their own rules and may decide if guests are required to wear face masks. These businesses have the right to refuse service to customers who do not obey their rules on their property. If you do not follow these rules and refuse to leave the establishment when asked, the business owner can file trespassing charges on you. Some retailers that are requiring their customers to wear face masks will be handing them out at entrances.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has laid out minimum health protocols and guidelines that retail customers must follow no matter where you shop.

These include screening yourself before you go inside any retailer to make sure you do not have any of the following: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, feeling feverish or a measured temperature greater than or equal to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or known close contact with a person who is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19.

The state order also offers these guidelines for consumers:

  • Wash or disinfect hands before you go into any store and again after any interactions with employees, other customers and/or items.
  • Maintain at least 6 feet of separation between yourself and any individuals who are not in your household.
  • If 6 feet of separation is not possible, you should wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth, keep your hands clean and disinfected, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands. employees can deliver items to their vehicle.
  • Monitor which items customers touch so that employees can clean and disinfect those areas when the customers leave.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands after you pay.
  • Cloth face masks are encouraged.

Q: Are there any rules or requirements that retailers who choose to open have to follow?

A: Yes. Quite a few, actually. Under the governor’s order, retailers are encouraged to:

  • Designate certain hours where only at-risk individuals can shop or where
  • Contactless payment is encouraged. If it is not possible, do what you can to minimize contact.
  • Train all employees on cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette.

Retailers must screen all employees for these symptoms before they can come inside: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, feeling feverish or a measured temperature greater than or equal to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or known close contact with a person who is lab-confirmed to have COVID-19.

They can not allow employees with any of the above symptoms to return to work until:

  • For employees who test positive for COVID-19 or do not get tested but have symptoms: At least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery (no fever without the help of fever-reducing medication), all respiratory issues have improved and 7 days have passed since the first symptoms appeared.
  • If the employee has symptoms that could be COVID-19, but the employee wants to return to work before completing the self-isolation period described above, they must obtain a medical professional’s note clearing them to return to work based on an alternative diagnosis.
  • Retailers must not allow employees with known close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 to come to work until they complete a 14-day self-isolation.
  • Require employee wash and sanitize their hands before coming inside retailer
  • Require employees to maintain at least 6 feet of separation between customers.
  • If 6 feet of separation is not possible, employees should wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth, keep your hands clean and disinfected, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
  • Cloth face masks are encouraged.
  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces and areas that are frequently touched.
  • Disinfect any items that come into contact with customers.
  • Make hand sanitizer, wipes and soap and water available to customers.
  • Put up signage to remind everyone of best hygiene practices.

Q: What will happen if a retailer that isn’t on the list opens or doesn’t follow the rules

A: Abbott said businesses that do not comply will be more likely to have their license revoked or be closed by health inspectors than fined.

Q: How are they gonna police the malls? There is literally 30/40 entrance. How are they going to track the people going into only 25%?

The Galleria, Houston Premium Outlets and Katy Mills Mall will open on Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday to allow for overnight cleaning. The company said malls will limit the number of entrances, food court seating will be limited and spaced further apart, play areas will remain closed and in restrooms and every other urinal and sink will be taped off.

To encourage physical distancing, the shopping center said food place seating will be removed and all food place items must be taken to-go along with common seating areas removed or spaced further apart. It is up to individual retailers if they chose to re-open and stores can continue to provide retail-to-go options through a pickup location in front of the Westin Hotel.

Simon said it will regularly sanitize high-touch areas such as food court tables, escalators, doorknobs and electronic directories, and the company is encouraging retailers in the malls to do the same. While Simon will reopen the malls, each individual retailer still has the choice to reopen or remain closed.

Simon is encouraging shoppers to take their temperatures before going to the mall. At the mall, free temperature testing will be available to customers, using infrared thermometers. Free CDC-approved masks and hand-sanitizing packets will also be available for those who ask. Shoppers are encouraged to wear masks or other facial coverings while they shop, and employees will be required to. Employees will also be asked to take “frequent breaks for handwashing.”