By Adrienne Moore

ELK GROVE (CBS13) — A new layer of protection is coming to a store near you. Large acrylic panels are being installed at thousands of grocery stores across the country.

Dan Hayes’ Elk Grove-based company Universal Custom Display typically makes acrylic window displays for stores like Safeway and American Eagle Outfitters, but a reinvention came once COVID-19 hit the country. Now, it’s churning out “sneeze guards” to protect customers and clerks from the killer virus.

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“This is something that is brand new. It’s absolutely unprecedented. We’ve never seen a demand for acrylic like this in years,” Hayes said.  “It’s basically a sneeze guard or a moisture guard that would block any kind of droplet exchange between a clerk and or a customer.”

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The rectangular shields create a physical barrier to keep customers and clerks six feet apart and can be molded to fit any checkout aisle.  Hundreds have already been installed at local stores.

With more than 1,000 “sneeze guards” being produced a day, meeting the demand at the speed in which stores need them, has been a challenge.

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But it’s a welcome challenge that comes with a deep sense of pride.

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“[I’m] proud of the fact that we’re continuing to be an essential provider of product for essential business in a time where the shelter-in-place laws are in effect,” Hayes said.

Yet another protective barrier provided by a local company during an unprecedented crisis.

“When it gets tough, you’ve got to get down in the dirt and you’ve got to grind,” Hayes said.

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The company is also working with hospitals to create what’s called a “bio box” to help protect doctors and nurses dealing with coronavirus patients.

Adrienne Moore