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Experts Want A Grocery Shopping Ban, Pick-Up Service Only
A customer stands in front of a shelf in a supermarket, wearing a mouthguard.
Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images

Experts are advocating a total ban on indoor grocery shopping, instead suggesting grocery stores offer pre-ordered curbside pick-up for customers. The advocated transition is said by experts to be a necessary step to keep grocery store workers, who have been dubbed “essential,” safe from being infected with the novel coronavirus by potential shoppers.

“Grocery stores are still flooded with customers, and experts say it’s time for large chains to go ‘dark’ to the public and convert to curbside pickup and home delivery for food and other essential goods,” a CNN report outlined this week.

According to Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ union, “careless customers” are “probably the biggest threat” to grocery store employees.

“The union said 85% of its grocery store member workers reported that customers are not practicing social distancing in stores,” CNN noted.

John Logan, professor and director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University, is also on board with a no in-store shopping policy, too.

“Anything that reduces the need for interaction with the public and allows for greater physical distancing will ultimately better protect grocery workers,” Logan said. “Shuttering stores and repurposing them for pickup and delivery only would be a positive step.”

While the ban on in-store shopping may be well intentioned, the actual implementation would be largely impractical and come with many disadvantages, especially to low-income folks who won’t be able to afford the extra costs for the service, outlined experts on the opposing side of the ban.

“We have no choice. They have to stay open. [America’s grocery] delivery system has not matured to the point where we can switch to an entirely remote system,” acknowledged Seth Harris, former Obama administration deputy secretary of labor.

Some grocery companies and safety experts say the ban is “not feasible,” CNN reported. “Ordering systems for both pickup and delivery are completely overwhelmed by a crush of demand from customers in many areas of the country.”

“Online pickup and delivery requires a much larger staff than grocery stores are currently equipped with. That could fill supermarkets to capacity with workers, defeating the purpose of removing the public from stores,” the report noted. “Paying that many workers would also cost grocers a lot more money, and many smaller chains don’t have the resources. They have already hired more workers during the pandemic to meet demand, and they’re raising pay for existing employees to convince them to stay on the job. Grocers operate on razor-thin margins, and for many, the recent increase in sales because of coronavirus has been wiped out by the increases they’ve needed to make in payroll.”

“We understand that during this time customers would appreciate a delivery or pick up service,” said a Trader Joe’s representative, but the grocer’s “systems are not set up in a way that would allow us to be able to offer these services, and at the same time maintain our commitment to offering value to our customers.”

Since there is currently no vaccination for the China-originated virus, COVID-19, the threat of contracting the disease could theoretically remain for years. It’s unclear how long pro-ban experts suggest the shift to pick up-only grocery services be implemented.

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