Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Walmart customers should now plan on standing in line before they enter the store.

Walmart has instituted a policy of limiting the number of customers who can be in the company’s stores nationwide at any one time, said Dacona Smith, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Walmart U.S., in a media release issued Friday.

Locally, Walmart has stores in Kent, Macedonia, Stow and Streetsboro.

Smith said the company is concerned that the stores may have been too crowded, given public health advice in the face coronavirus.

"While many of our customers have been following the advice of the medical community regarding social distancing and safety, we have been concerned to still see some behaviors in our stores that put undue risk on our people," said Smith. "We want to encourage customers to bring the fewest number of people per family necessary to shop, allow for space with other customers while shopping, and practice social distancing while waiting in lines. We’re also seeing states and municipalities set varying policies regarding crowd control — which has created some confusion regarding shopping."

To this end, only five customers will be admitted per 1,000 square feet at a time, roughly 20 percent of the store’s capacity. Once the limit is reached, customers will be allowed in on a "one-to-one basis" as customers in the store leave. In addition, in a number of stores, traffic in aisles will be one-way, directed by floor markings and employees.

"We expect this to help more customers avoid coming into close contact with others as they shop," said Smith.

For the same reason, customers will be directed to exit all the stores through a different door than they entered.

The changes come on top of previous safety measures that have been put into place.

In a March 31 media release, John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. and Kath McLay, Sam’s Club president and CEO, said the company had started sending infrared thermometers to all of its locations, a process that could take as long as three weeks to complete.

"Any associate with a temperature of 100.0 degrees will be paid for reporting to work and asked to return home and seek medical treatment if necessary," says the release. "The associate will not be able to return to work until they are fever-free for at least three days."

In addition, many employees had already started taking their own temperatures at home and Walmart is requesting that they continue to do that and not come to work if they have a fever or other symptoms.

"Our COVID-19 emergency leave policy allows associates to stay home if they have any COVID-19 related symptoms, concerns, illness or are quarantined – knowing that their jobs will be protected," states the release.

The company will also make masks and gloves available to employees who wish to wear them as supplies permit.

The company announced March 24 that it had started installing floor decals at store entrances and checkout lines to make it easier for customers to judge how close they are to each other, as well as plexiglass barriers at checkouts and pharmacy counters, and it identified a disinfectant that makes it easier to sanitize shopping carts more thoroughly.

Smith said the changes being made are necessary for the safety of both customers and employees.

"We always want people to feel welcome at Walmart, and we know that in ordinary times a store is a gathering place for members of a community to connect and socialize," she said. "We look forward to the time when that is again the case; however, we now want to prioritize health and safety by encouraging customers to do their shopping at a distance from others, then head home.

"As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, our leaders and operations teams will continue to listen to advice from medical experts, associates and customers, and consider how we can best serve people while helping slow the spread of the virus. The health and safety of our associates and customers is what matters the most."