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UPDATE: Hannaford, Shaw's offering reserved shopping times for at-risk customers

Grocery stores around the nation are taking precautions to protect at-risk customers.

Grocery stores have become some of the busiest places to be in recent weeks due to the coronavirus, with people scrambling to stock up on supplies.

The elderly and people who have serious underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Because of this, stores across the country have been dedicating certain times for them to shop. 

Hannaford Supermarkets announced effective Tuesday, March 24 that its stores will offer dedicated shopping hours for people age 60 and older, as well as those with compromised immune systems. Stores will open early from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Tuesday through Thursday to service this vulnerable population and allow a less crowded shopping environment, which enables better social distancing.

In addition, Hannaford is shortening its general store-operating hours starting Saturday, March 21 in order to provide for additional time to clean, stock shelves and give associates additional time to rest. The new daily hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

On Wednesday, March 18, Shaw's Supermarkets adapted to these special measures. 

On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 9 a.m., all Shaw's stores will be reserved for at-risk shoppers. 

"During those times, we ask that you avoid shopping so that the stores can be available for senior citizens, and other at-risk members of our community such as pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems," Shaw's wrote on social media. 

Gov. Janet Mills mandated an Executive Order Wednesday that bans gatherings of 10 or more people until further notice, and also banned dine-in restaurants and bars for two weeks. 

RELATED: Gov. Mills bans dine-in service at restaurants, bars and gatherings of 10 people or more statewide

The ban doesn't apply to essential services like grocery stores, but it could make them more crowded, and crowds go hand-in-hand with the possible spread of COIVD-19. Since crowds can't be avoided at essential places like this, Mills and the Maine Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are encouraging "social distancing," which is key to preventing the spread.

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

Editor’s note: You are starting to hear the term ‘flattening the curve’ as a way to stem the tide of coronavirus cases. The above video explains what that means.

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