Starbucks closes some stores and ditches chairs due to virus

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Starbucks is only serving customers “to go” in the U.S. and Canada in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The coffee chain will also completely close stores in some areas, including in regions which are seeing wider outbreaks of the pathogen.

The company announced the closures, effective immediately, on Sunday. Company-run stores in high-risk areas including New York and Seattle that have a high count of COVID-19 cases, the disease caused by the coronavirus, are among those shutting down. Stores in high social-gathering settings such as malls or on university campuses will also be temporarily closed, according to the Seattle-based company.

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The contagious illness caused by the coronavirus is also prompting the company to remove chairs at thousands of locations for “at least two weeks to help prevent prolonged social gatherings in our cafes,” Rossann Williams, executive vice president at Starbucks and the president of U.S. retail operations, said in a statement.

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Locations remaining open are “pausing the use of all seating” including patio seating, modifying the condiment bar and making a change to the “cash handling process.” Those outlets will take orders in-store, through “Mobile Order & Pay” methods and via drive-thru windows, with delivery still available.

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The moves come a week after Starbucks cited the outbreak in saying customers could no longer bring their own cups into its stores. It also expanded “catastrophe pay” for employees, providing up to 14 days of pay to any Starbucks worker diagnosed with, or exposed to, COVID-19 so they can stay home.

In its latest announcement, Starbucks said it would offer assistance to any workers affected by store closures or reduced hours, including “providing catastrophe pay.”

Starbucks in January temporarily closed 2,000 restaurants across China — roughly half its shops in the country — due to the outbreak that had been centered in the city of Wuhan.

“These are the actions we know are effective based on our experience in China,” Williams said of the company’s measures in the U.S. to contain the virus.

More than 3,700 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the U.S., and at least 69 have died. Globally, the death toll was just over 6,500 on Monday, with the weekend seeing an alarming spike in fatalities in three European nations grappling with aggressive outbreaks.

While more than 169,000 people have caught the virus around the world, almost half have already recovered, and the vast majority of cases remain mild.