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To help during coronavirus pandemic, a former cashier returns to the checkout line in Laurel

Like many, North Laurel resident Carol Worsham wanted to help her community when the coronavirus started to spread across the nation.

Rather than volunteering for traditional types of service, Worsham went back to a job she held multiple times in her life — working at a grocery store.

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Worsham, 67, went to work at Weis Markets in Laurel in late March as a cashier.

“I really wanted to contribute in some way,” Worsham said.

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One of Worsham’s first jobs as a high school student in upstate New York was at a grocery store. After she moved to Maryland, Worsham worked at Safeway in Silver Spring before taking her career job as an administrative officer at the National Institutes of Health.

Worsham said that after retiring in 2010, she got bored and worked at Weis for three years before taking a job as a paraeducator with the Howard County Public School System, working at both Fulton and Running Brook elementary schools the past six years.

“Now that the schools are closed due to the coronavirus, I decided to go back to Weis,” she said. “I just thought I needed to do something. I feel like I’m keeping myself busy this way. I knew I couldn’t just stay at home. There’s only so much exercise and yard work to do.”

Worsham is one of many grocery store employees adjusting to the coronavirus. For weeks, grocery store employees have been cleaning carts with disinfectant wipes and wearing masks and gloves to help slow the spread of the virus. Last week, however, stricter measures were implemented at grocery stores and other retail establishments to ensure the safety of both the employees and the customers.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that all grocery store employees and customers must wear masks while in the store. Some stores, like Giant, Megamart and others in Laurel, are limiting the number of people allowed in the store at a time. Others, like Weis, where Worsham works, and Aldi in Laurel also have plastic glass between the cashiers and the customers.

“The biggest thing is trying to keep the employees safe first," said Anthony Cusato, Weis store manager. "We want to make sure they have gloves and masks and keep contact low to prevent the spread of the disease. Then when customers come in, we keep them six feet apart and make sure everything is sanitized and clean.”

Sam Beiler, the manager of the meat department at the Dutch Country Farmers Market in Laurel, said steps have been taken to ensure employees can adhere to the social distancing guidelines.

“We are really making sure to socially distance,” he said. "We set up another lunch room for the employees, and we also have some employees delivering. We are also making sure we’re sanitizing often.”

The market, which operates Thursday through Saturday, is limiting the number of patrons in the store to prevent crowding, according to its Facebook page.

Beiler added that he believes it’s still important for people to support local businesses during the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of families that depend on the employees here,” he said. “This is the income those families have, and that’s everywhere. We appreciate the customers, and we try to accommodate for them.”

Worsham said she was initially concerned for her safety prior to starting at Weis in mid-March, but she became more comfortable when she saw the safety measures Weis implemented.

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“I knew it was a risk, but the store provided Plexiglass between the customers and the cashiers,” Worsham said. “We also have masks and a face mask. I wear gloves, and we keep our customers socially distanced. I do feel safe, and I feel like I’m protected.”

She said her first two weeks at Weis were busier than the last two, as customers aren’t hoarding as much as they were at the beginning of the pandemic.

“They’re so frustrated, and they’re concerned about their families,” she said. “I’m empathetic with them and tell them to make sure they’re staying safe. I try to make them smile and make them feel better.”

Before coronavirus, working at a grocery store may not have seemed like a job that is vital for a community. Now, though, Worsham said people are realizing that many essential jobs, like being a grocery store employee, are helping the community.

“Working in retail, a lot of people during this time are praising what we’re doing. I see customers thanking the stockers and others at the store,” Worsham said. “But in my eyes, I feel like no matter what job you have that you’re essential.”

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