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Starbucks may make some stores drive-thru only to increase "social distancing" amid coronavirus

Coronavirus changing business operations

Starbucks is taking extra steps to protect its employees and customers against the coronavirus. In a letter posted on its website, Starbucks CEO and President Kevin Johnson let customers know their "Starbucks Experience may look different as we navigate through this time together." 

While the global chain is maintaining regular operations in the U.S. and Canada, it's preparing to modify operations if needed. These changes, which will be made on a store-by-store basis, may included limited seating as a way to promote "social distancing."

Experts say social distancing could be effective in helping to curtail the spread of the virus. CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook explained social distancing as "trying to keep yourself away from other people, especially large crowds." 

To increase social distancing at Starbucks stores, the Seattle-based coffee giant said in some cases only the drive-thru will be open. Some stores may also "enable mobile order-only scenarios for pickup via the Starbucks App or delivery via Uber Eats," Johnson's letter reads. 

Starbucks started taking extra measures to protect against the spread of coronavirus earlier this month, announcing in a March 4 letter that stores would no longer fill customers' personal cups or offer "for here" ware, for the time being. They will, however, honor the 10-cent discount for anyone who brings in a personal cup or asks for "for here" ware.

Starbucks Invests Heavily In Drive-Thru Market
Starbucks has several protective measures planned to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Some stores could become drive-thru only, which would be decided on a case-by-case basis.  Getty Images

The company also said it would restrict business-related travel for employees, modify or postpone large meetings and increase cleaning in stores, taking guidance from the CDC and local health authorities.

Johnson said losing a store would be a last resort, but it could be done if the company feels it is in the best interest of their customers and partners, or if the government directs them to do so. 

The company is also expanding "catastrophe pay" for employees, under a policy that provides up to 14 days of pay to any Starbucks partner who is diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19, so they can self-isolate at home. 

If someone is still unable to work after 14 days, additional pay replacement may be made up to 26 weeks, Starbuck says. 

In the newest letter to customers, Johnson said stores were prepared to respond quickly to any emerging situation, and that the company would leverage knowledge gained from its experience in China.

In China, where the coronavirus first emerged in December, there is mounting evidence that strict control measures are paying off. Premier Xi Jinping has declared the disease "basically curbed," with only about 10 new domestic infections reported in China on Wednesday.

More than 90% of Starbucks stores have reopened there, Johnson's letter said.

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