Being at the grocery store back on Friday, March 13th - the day that the boys’ school canceled all further in-person classes – was my first inkling of the pandemonium that COVID-19 could cause.
The scene was chaotic – lots of people stuffed into the store, filling their shopping carts full of staples (pasta, bread, eggs, milk, flour, lysol wipes, medicine, and toilet paper), the lines were long, the workers stressed, and the store shelves disheveled. It remains a memory of what I’ve always assumed “apocalypse shopping” would look like, or at the very least it was reminiscent of what happens when an impending hurricane or giant snowstorm is on the way…but with less certainty about what to expect.
Subsequent trips have seen increasingly dystopian safety measures at the store. The first serious change was the regular appearance of empty shelves on subsequent visits – for weeks now there have been aisles with very little or no stock of many of those same staples. In their place the store has put up signs about the shortage, alerting customers to new limits on the amount of product they can buy for certain items.
The next change was the introduction of plexiglass shields between the customers and the cashiers, along with tape on the floor and signs directing customers to stay at least six feet apart (behind the tape) as they checked out. Around this time, most stores started finding that their relatively new “curbside pickup” services were quickly filling up with customers who have decided to try and minimize the amount of times they’d have to be in the store. As a result, the wait times to now pick up an online order can stretch out for several weeks from the time it is ordered. We have joined this queue ourselves, and we have to try and plan out what groceries we might need several weeks in advance, which is an annoying but doable chore. It just sucks.
The most recent trip there – which I took yesterday – saw another evolution of the store. Each main entrance has been transformed into an “Enter Only” and “Exit Only” door. Upon entering the store, customers are met by a store employee who offers them a paper towel with lysol on it to wipe down the cart that they wish to use. Throughout the store, there are arrows indicating the direction that customers should travel as they circulate around the store – each aisle of groceries is a “one way” aisle and customers are encouraged with signs throughout the store to follow them and exercise social distancing.
While shopping, the store’s music is regularly interrupted with the repetition of several messages. These include announcements like “please follow CDC guidelines, stay six feet or more apart from all customers and employees, and consider wearing a mask” and “please don’t buy more than you absolutely need, there will be enough goods – including paper goods – available in the supply chain if we are responsible!” These kind of announcements are usually proceeded by company-based sentiments such as “Giant knows that this is a tough time for all of us right now, and we are doing all we can…”. Other small details worth noting: the pin pad on the card reader at checkout regularly has saran-wrap style plastic placed (and then replaced) on it, the percentage of customers with masks continues to increase, and the store has stopped making certain services available (e.g. the floral shop, full service deli counters, etc.).
After getting home with groceries, we do a couple of things with them to minimize infection before bringing them in. For everything we buy, we wipe down external containers (jars, boxes, bags, etc.) on a picnic table outside (divided into “clean” and “dirty” halves). For some items, we also leave them outside in a cupboard in the garage until we need to bring them in. When I get home, I take my shoes off and leave them outside, take a shower, wash my clothes, and otherwise try to make sure that if I had any virus inadvertently get onto my person, it can likewise be killed off without spreading inside.
So that’s how grocery shopping is different.