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Seattle grocery stores may limit some items as new COVID-19 restrictions take effect

Customers at Seattle Safeway stores will only be allowed to purchase two packages of paper towels at a time. All grocery stores will be limited to 25% capacity.

SEATTLE — Current COVID-19 restrictions in Washington state have grocery stores operating at 30% capacity. Starting Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced capacity at retail and grocery stores will be limited to 25% of original capacity

Karl Schroeder, President of Albertsons Safeway Seattle Division, said their stores will go to a single entrance with a worker counting customers to make sure the store stays below the new limit.

With Thanksgiving approaching, grocery stores anticipate being busy. Schroeder said Safeway will restock shelves regularly. The company said, out of an abundance of caution, there will be limits on some products. For example, customers will only be allowed to purchase two packages of paper towels at a time.

Patty Estes, who works at a Fred Meyer in Pierce County, said she welcomes enforcement of the 25% capacity rule.

“That tension and that anxiety is really taking its toll on a lot of grocery workers,” said Estes.

For Estes, the pandemic has resulted in long hours and, at times, short tempers.

"I have had people yell at me, call me any kind of name that you can think of, I've been spit on. I've had things thrown at me," she said.

Now, as a rise in coronavirus cases brings more restrictions, Estes said she's observed people panic buying.

"It hurts a little bit to know that we're doing this again,” she said.

RELATED: New COVID-19 restrictions on Washington businesses, social gatherings take effect late tonight

Angel Gonzalez, President of UFCW Local 367, is advocating for more pay and strict safety measures for grocery workers.

"Our job is to ensure that the employers and those in the management of these stores are actually limiting the amount of customers to the 25% level," Gonzalez said. 

In regards to worker safety, Schroeder said that's the company’s top priority.

“We do health screenings everyday when they start their shift. We are asking all customers to wear masks, as well as our employees wearing a mask. We've got the plexiglass up,” Schroeder said. "As long as people don't feel a need to stockpile, then we'll be fine."

He said their Seattle stores have signs to remind customers about social distancing, while they enforce the 25% capacity rule.

For Estes, she depends on her job and knows the public is depending on her.

"This is not something that any of us take lightly when we go to work every day. And respect is something that we deserve,” Estes said.

With Thanksgiving approaching, grocery stores anticipate being busy. Schroeder said Safeway will restock shelves regularly. The company said, out of an abundance of caution, there will be limits on some products. For example, customers will only be allowed to purchase two packages of paper towels at a time.