By Leah Chiappino
After months of being shuttered, Long Island malls were given the green light to reopen July 11 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), with the caveat that the mall installs a high-efficiency venting system to follow “proper ventilation protocols.”
“HVAC systems will be required to include filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value — or MERV — rating that filters out the COVID-19 virus, but can, if the system makes additional protections, run on a minimum MERV of 11,” the governor’s office said on its website. “Ventilation protocols include increased outdoor air, reduced air circulation, longer system run times and frequent filter checks.”
Although both Smith Haven and Walt Whitman malls are open, several stores such as Express, Victoria Secrets, Bath & Body Works, Yankee Candle and more remain closed the first few days. At Smith Haven, most stores plan to open next week, and the food court is open for take-out only. Guests are met with hand sanitizer stations and occupancy capacity signs upon entrance to the stores that are open. Most have one-way aisles to ensure social distancing.
Simon Property Group, which runs operations for both Smith Haven and Walt Whitman malls released a series of guidelines on its website to ensure customers and employees stay safe.
Employees, who will be trained on the proper safety protocols, must not report to work if they have experienced any COVID-19 symptoms within 72 hours of the start of their shift. All employees will have their temperature taken upon arrival, and those with a temperature above 100.4 and/or show flulike symptoms will be sent home. All Simon employees will be required to practice social distancing and wear a face covering. Employees who do test positive will be required to quarantine and the area they inhabited will be disinfected. The company says it will “encourage our tenants, vendors and contractors to implement the same precautions.”
Customers will also be “encouraged” to wear face coverings, and the mall will provide masks and sanitizing wipes to customers at the mall office or designated entrances.
Breakrooms, restrooms, counters, registers, workstations and employee-only areas will be disinfected several times per day. Customers are discouraged from handing an employee their credit card and should rely on credit card receptacles. Simon encouraged its vendors to maintain a 6-foot distance between customer and employees and install barriers at checkout.
Occupancy is limited to 50-square-feet per person. If occupancy is reached, customers will be asked to wait in their cars or outside stores, standing 6-feet apart. Social distancing markers will be placed near restrooms, checkout lines and food courts. Mall security has been tasked with “actively reminding and encouraging customers/public to comply with the social distancing standards.”
As of now, child play areas, water fountains and strollers are not available for use. All events hosted by the mall have been canceled or postponed.
The malls will operate at reduced hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.