AT&T sent a notice to its authorized retail companies in California with instructions on how to handle possible questions, including from the police, about why they remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Describing it as “only best practice,” the guide sent Thursday “should be used in case any official, individual, or group asks why the AT&T store is open.”
AT&T on Wednesday said it was closing 40 percent of its retail stores nationwide, with all stores closing on Sundays and the rest open during modified hours. However, that decision applied to AT & T’s company-owned retail stores, not privately owned and operated.
Several states have issued orders requiring the closure of all companies except essential ones. AT&T argues that it qualifies as an essential business as a “critical communications provider” under the guidance of the Department of Homeland Security. The company also provides technical support at its retail outlets for first responders under its FirstNet program.
“Our customers and first responders find the service we provide at our retail stores to be invaluable, especially at times like this,” a company spokesperson said in an email to The Verge. “Due to evolving circumstances and guidelines for social distancing, we are balancing the need to serve the public in our retail stores with the health and safety of our customers and employees.”
AT&T says DHS told it that its retail stores offer “essential services that are critical to the public’s ability to communicate during the current emergency.” If a store is “visited by local government officials or the police and they ask why we are open during the Shelter-in-Place request,” the letter instructs workers to “explain that AT&T is an essential business that provides essential services. and shows them the printed copy of the attached letter. If you have any further questions, please contact your management team. “
The spokesperson added that all AT&T retail workers have been instructed on social distancing and personal hygiene, and stores have posted signs reminding customers of CDC best practices. Store workers have been asked to “clean their hands and clean doors, devices, phones, and surfaces after every customer interaction,” and to clean the entire store every two hours.
“We know of several guidelines and, in some cases, orders that establish requirements for businesses and individuals to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the memo to stores. “AT&T is committed to meeting those requirements while providing essential services to our communities.”
Quarantine requests have been extended across the United States in the past week. California Governor Gavin Newsom has issued a state on-site shelter order that limits businesses that may remain open. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued an order Thursday to close all companies that “do not sustain life.”
On March 13, AT&T told employees to start working from home, but the order did not apply to workers in its retail stores or workers who install equipment for customers.
AT&T previously suspended its arbitrary broadband limits in response to the coronavirus pandemic and signed the FCC’s “Connected to the Americans” pledge not to disconnect subscribers or charge fees for late-payments during the outbreak.