As normal everyday life grinds to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic, some of the nation’s biggest retailers have temporarily closed thousands of stores to help stem the spread of the virus. Simon Property Group, the largest owner of shopping malls in the nation, closed all of its properties on Wednesday. Westfield and Taubman malls followed with U.S. closures on Thursday. 

Not everyone is deserting their posts. Grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies are keeping their doors open to help people stay stocked with essentials, though many are shortening store hours to clean and restock. Walmart, the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer, shortened hours beginning Thursday, for the second time in less than a week.

Those stores are joined by office supply and home improvement chains which say they, too, provide essentials. Among the justifications: they provide products people – including first responders – need in a natural disaster. Others say they sell supplies that people need to work and school their children from home. 

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Home Depot has cut store hours because of the coronavirus but stores remain open.

And then there are retailers like GameStop and Barnes & Noble, who, as of Thursday afternoon, were staying open with reduced hours and announced steps to implement social distancing. But public experts say these stores don’t fulfill a critical need in the same way as pharmacies and home improvement stores.

“We have a very short window to prevent this crisis from turning into a catastrophe,” said Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health expert at George Washington University. “So, it is the responsibility of every person to do their part to not do anything that’s not essential.” She said all non-essential stores should close to help stop the spread of the virus.

Dr. John Swartzberg, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, said stores providing essentials must remain open, but others should close.

“The more people interact with other people, the more the opportunity to spread,” he said. “Stores are a perfect place for viruses to transmit, especially when they are crowded.”

Providing essentials during COVID-19 crisis

Walgreens stores nationwide have adjusted hours. Most locations, including 24-hour stores, will be open from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. The drive-thru at 24-hour pharmacy locations will remain open for pick up of prescriptions and other select products. Competitor CVS wasn’t making a similar move as of Thursday afternoon. 

“We currently have no plans to close stores or alter hours of operation unless directed to do so,” T.J. Crawford, CVS Health vice president, external affairs, said in a statement to USA TODAY. 





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