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Family Express puts disposable tissues everywhere so customers don't have to touch anything
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Family Express puts disposable tissues everywhere so customers don't have to touch anything

As the coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 1 million worldwide, Family Express is taking precautions that might have seemed fussily germophobic just a few months ago.

The Valparaiso-based convenience store chain, which operates 75 stores across the state of Indiana, has been installing dispensers of disposable wax tissue in its stores so people don't have to touch any hard surfaces. The goal is to keep people from passing on germs by directly touching gas pumps, gas nozzles, PIN pads, touch screens, door handles, refrigerator handles, coffee machines, ATMs or any other surface in the store.

"We have sought to create the most fortified open retail environment in the U.S. with these initiatives," President and CEO Gus Olympidis said.

The chain already installed hand sanitizer stations throughout its stores, put in protective shields made by Portage-based Konrady Plastics to separate customers from cashiers, and started taking the temperature of all its employees when they report to work for the beginning of their shift. They are sent home if the temperature is high.

The company reached out to Wegener Steel/Fabrication in Valparaiso to make the wax tissue dispensers, which are place by doors, gas pumps and coffee machines.

"From what we've learned about the virus the connectivity comes from hard surfaces that maintain the presence of the virus," Olympidis said. "It lasts 20 to 30 times longer on a surface than it does in the air. It lasts two to three hours in the air, and three to five days on a hard surface."

Many stores and supermarkets have taken up increased sanitization measures during the coronavirus pandemic, but the only way to be completely sure you're not touching germs is with the tissues, Olympidis said.

"If a door handle is sanitized every 20 minutes, and it was sanitized 20 minutes ago, it doesn't matter, if the person who walked in right in front of you has coronavirus," he said. "This is creating a barrier between a hard surface and naked skin."

All Family Express stores should be fitted with the wax tissue paper dispensers by Saturday. The tissues were designed to be translucent so they can be placed over a touch screen or pin pad and one can still see what buttons to press underneath.

"We're providing nearly 100% coverage where you don't have to make any contact with a hard surface, to prevent the transmission of this disease," he said. "We've had a task force and weren't able to find what we needed through suppliers, so we turned to local resources. A can-do spirit prevailed where they stayed late in a neighboring, patriotic way to make and deliver these dispensers. That's an inspiration that's nothing short of remarkable. We're all coming together to take this on."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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