H-E-B stores will open earlier and stay open later starting April 27 as the availability of products improves and the supply chain picks up steam, the Texas supermarket chain announced on its website. Stores will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., with pharmacies continuing to be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The chain will also relax purchase limits on many items and reopen parts of stores that were closed as the pandemic took hold, such as bakery, deli and floral departments. "With an improving supply chain and stronger product availability, our stores have the capacity to serve more customers throughout the day while providing the products they want at our everyday low prices,” H-E-B said in its announcement.
H-E-B stores will continue to focus on social distancing and stepped-up hygienic practices. All employees who work with customers will continue to wear masks, stores will limit customer traffic and barriers at checkout counters will remain in place.
Grocers across the country, including H-E-B, took a range of steps, including curtailing hours, to prevent the virus from spreading in stores and deal with the surging demand for groceries that marked the start of the outbreak. As panic-buying eases, supply chains recover and some states begin reopening, grocers will likely begin loosening restrictions on hours and product limits while still maintaining safety standards.
H-E-B's latest announcement comes as its home state prepares to partially reopen its economy. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that he will lay out plans as soon as Friday to allow business shuttered by the pandemic, such as restaurants, beauty salons and retailers not deemed essential, to begin resuming operations, according to media reports. He has already reopened state parks and allowed retailers that had been forced to shut down to begin selling goods for pickup through a process called “retail to go,” coveringkaty.com reported. Other states that have started to relax pandemic-related restrictions include South Carolina and Florida.
Texas’ efforts to reenergize the state’s economy go against warnings from public health officials that it is too soon to begin loosening restrictions meant to prevent the virus from spreading. If the virus starts to make a comeback and Texas is forced to clamp down once again, H-E-B may have to reverse course.
A model from the University of Texas suggests that COVID-19 deaths in the state may already have peaked, WFAA-TV reported yesterday. But projections about what could come next assume that social distancing protocols that states have put into place remain in place, James Scott, a professor of statistics and data science at the University of Texas at Austin, told the TV station, warning that hospitalizations and deaths caused by the virus could rise if in-person economic activity resumes too soon.
H-E-B is not alone in extending store hours despite the continuing pandemic. Minnesota grocer Cub Foods is making 11 of its stores 24-hour locations in order to provide customers with expanded access to groceries, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Cub instituted 24-hour operations at an additional 13 stores in March, according to the newspaper.