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OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 16: There were lines, but not too long, at Gazzali's Supermarket at Eastmont Town Center in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, March 16, 2020. The store was pretty well-stocked considering that six Bay Area counties are ordering an unprecedented shelter-in-place order at 12:01 a.m. tonight. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

CRA President & CEO Rachel Michelin in The Mercury News: Coronavirus: Do reusable grocery bags spread the virus? And are they banned?

By PAUL ROGERS | | Bay Area News GroupPUBLISHED: April 3, 2020 at 2:46 p.m. | UPDATED: April 6, 2020 at 4:39 a.m.

Reusable grocery bags have been a staple of life for more than a decade, with environmental groups, cities and voters across California and other states supporting bans on single-use plastic bags to reduce huge amounts of plastic pollution increasingly turning up in rivers, streams and oceans.

But in recent days, as part of expanded efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus, health officials in Bay Area counties, along with Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, have prohibited grocery stores from allowing customers to bring their own bags when they go shopping.

The industry groups also asked Newsom to waive the requirement that stores charge customers 10 cents for paper bags and reusable plastic bags. The law banning most plastic bags and setting that fee was signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. It was supported by the grocery workers union and major stores such as Safeway, and upheld by voters in 2016 when they approved Proposition 67, defeating an attempt by the plastic bag industry to over turn it.

“Our employees are expressing a great deal of discomfort and fear of exposure,” wrote Ron Fong, president of the grocery association and Rachel Michelin, president of the retailers association, in the letter to Newsom.

“This is a laudatory environmental policy, but it is simply not appropriate to expect our employees to handle and load customer’s used grocery bags at this time.”

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