Customers scurried through the aisles of Festival Foods in Janesville on Saturday afternoon, some of them donning protective masks and gloves.
They scanned the shelves for toilet paper, bottled water, hand sanitizer and other grocery items that have been a bit harder to stock up on due to the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, one Festival Foods employee stocked shelves. Another wiped down the handles on grocery carts in the entryway. A third stood on a ladder as he cleaned a display.
Grocery stores are being hit hard as one of the few essential businesses still open for in-person business due to the stay-in-place order issued by Gov. Tony Evers.
Employees at Festival Foods say it can be scary at times to continue working, but they also know they play a large role in helping the community overcome the worldwide health scare.
“For me, no matter what’s going on, I just think it’s important to be there and bring a level of normalcy in a time that’s just not normal,” said Jamie Kent-Schneider, deli department manager at the store.
“We have to do what we can to make people feel like life is as close to normal as it can be right now.”
The store continues to see a higher number of guests than it’s accustomed to, said Senior Director of Community Involvement Brian Stenzel.
The store’s online shopping service, Click N Go, allows guests to submit an online shopping list, which can be picked up at the store. Stenzel said the number of customers utilizing the service has more than doubled with the spread of COVID-19.
Instacart is another option being utilized more often by customers. The company offers home delivery of groceries.
The demand for basic commodity items such as toilet paper remains high, but Stenzel said the store isn’t seeing a food shortage at this time.
As people continue to need groceries and a place to get them, Assistant Store Director Tom Hayd said Festival’s employees are doing the best they can.
“Each day brings a new challenge. Associates have been great and very understanding with the ever-changing needs of the store and our guests. Associates are working in other departments that they have never worked in before and doing all new tasks that aren’t a part of their everyday routine,” Hayd said. “It’s gratifying to see us all come together and step in where we’re needed most and learn together along the way.”
The store has several hand washing/hand sanitizer stations set up around the store for shoppers and employees, and additional cleaning continues as the store remains operational.
The store has directed employees to wash hands frequently and stay home if they are feeling ill. A team of employees is in charge of disinfecting all areas of the store numerous times throughout each day with an emphasis on “high-touch” areas, Stenzel said.
Festival Foods CEO and President Mark Skogen said the company’s 33 stores across the state are looking for more employees during this time and is offering temporary part-time work for those looking for extra hours during “these unprecedented times.”
Employees are being paid an appreciation bonus for continuing to work.
Closing the store overnight instead of operating 24 hours a day has allowed for extensive cleaning after each day, also, Stenzel said.
Store Director Jeff Jensen said while it might seem daunting to continue working amid the spread of COVID-19, Festival Foods will continue to be open to the community.
“We are grateful that we can be here for our guests during this time. We wouldn’t want it to be any other way. We came here to support the Janesville community when we opened, and that is what we will continue to do,” Jensen said.
There is a sign of hope within the store, Kent-Schneider said.
The deli cases, typically filled to the brim with fresh meats, cheeses and other products, had been closed for the past week. Since store employees are learning more about the virus and believe it’s safe to serve the food with protective equipment, the cases have re-opened.
“That’s all we can do is be there for people and help those that might be a little panicked and reassure them that we’re going to continue to be here and continue to have these things for them,” Kent-Schneider said.
She did that earlier this month with a family that was trying to plan for a funeral while following Evers’ rule limiting the size of gatherings.
Kent-Schneider helped the family pick out food to best fit the situation. She said it was a small gesture, but for people who continue to work during this time, small gestures can make a big difference.
“No matter what is going on in the world, people’s lives continue to go on and that includes funerals and other life events. We’re all impacted in so many ways in all of this (COVID-19). … It is one of those moments in time that we get an opportunity to make a difference, even if it is small,” she said.
Everyone will feel anxious at some point during the COVID-19 crisis, and that’s OK.
But anxiety, depression, stress and substance dependency will be worse for some than others, said Michelle Rose-Barajas, psychologist and manager at Mercyhealth Behavioral Health Clinic.
Staying connected, being educated, making plans and identifying signs of mental health conditions will be key in helping everyone through the dark and uncertain time, Rose-Barajas said.
The potential for increased suicides, incidents of domestic violence, substance abuse and child abuse during the pandemic is high, Rose-Barajas said.
Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said there was no immediate spike in such incidents in the initial days of the pandemic, but he is aware that could change.
Moore has dedicated a group of officers to work off-site during the pandemic to support patrol officers in these incidents, he said.
Rock County Human Services is continuing to deliver essential mental health services during the pandemic, said Kate Luster, human services director.
The county is working to adapt many of its services to be done remotely to prevent the spread of disease, Luster said in an email to The Gazette.
“Crisis intervention continues to be available 24 hours a day, and our many other behavioral health programs have been working diligently to assure that client needs are assessed and met in an ongoing way,” Luster said.
Mercyhealth is continuing emergency services for people experiencing mental health crises, Rose-Barajas said.
Regular mental health services are also continuing, but many providers are using over-the-phone services or telehealth to promote social distancing.
Rose-Barjas encourages everyone who receives mental health care to reach out to their providers and create a plan to continue services.
There are a lot of factors at the forefront of the pandemic that are likely to lead to negative mental health outcomes including isolation; fear for the health of yourself and others; financial insecurity; and job loss, Rose-Barajas said.
Anxiety is a normal emotion that serves a purpose, Rose-Barajas said.
Anxiety activates people to prepare or protect their selves in times of danger or stress, Rose-Barajas said.
It is important to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy anxiety. When anxiety leads to overgeneralized, negative thoughts, it is no longer helpful, Rose-Barajas said.
Those feelings are what prompted many people to hoard toilet paper and bottled water— two items that are not needed in excess for this kind of disaster, Rose-Barajas said.
Constant worrying about the worst-case scenarios is a sign of negative anxiety.
It is important to stay informed on the issues surrounding COVID-19 to mitigate fears of the unknown, Rose-Barajas said.
But it is also important to limit exposure to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Rose-Barajas recommends getting information from reliable sources instead of social media. Limiting social media intake can, in general, ease some people’s worries.
“Distraction is important rather than allowing feelings to sit and ruminate,” Rose-Barajas said.
Watching a movie, reading a book, reaching out to friends or doing anything enjoyable is necessary to prevent anxiety from building.
It is important to maintain a sense of purpose during this time, Rose-Barajas said.
People who are out of work can continue to feel that by setting goals, trying new things and staying productive.
Staying connected to people is essential. People should be aware of signs of depression and suicidal ideations to help those who might be struggling, Rose-Barajas said.
Changes in sleeping, eating, mood and decreased interest in normal activities are signs of depression as well as irritation, outbursts, feeling of worthlessness, guilt, frequent thoughts of death and trouble concentrating.
Everyone needs to be aware of alcohol and drug intake, especially while social distancing, Rose-Barajas said.
Those suffering from addiction or in recovery will have difficulties resisting substance use. Rose-Barajas encourages people to reach out to those with addiction and help those people find online support groups.
People who drink alcohol occasionally might find themselves drinking more frequently or using alcohol to help them relax, Rose-Barajas said.Having coping tools such as journaling, meditation, exercise and other activities can help people avoid becoming dependent on alcohol.
People working in health care or other essential fields might experience depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder during or after the pandemic, Rose-Barajas said.
Studies have shown Chinese health care workers reported substantially elevated levels of mental health issues since COVID-19 began, Rose Barajas said.
“When things calm down and we are on the other side, that is time when a lot of these people will get out of crisis mode and then they might experience symptoms,” Rose-Barajas said. “A lot of it you will see after the fact for first responders.”
Establishing boundaries between work and personal life will help people get away from some of the feelings surrounding COVID-19, Rose-Barajas said. Mercyhealth is continuing its employee assistance program, which helps workers connect with mental health services anonymously, Rose-Barajas said.
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