Experts warn that it may be time to close the doors on in-person grocery shopping.
As dozens of grocery store workers have died from the coronavirus despite taking precautions, some experts, union leaders, and small grocery owners believe it is too dangerous to have customers browse the aisles, coming into close range with workers.
According to CNN, experts suggest it's time to require curbside pickup and home delivery. Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union tells CNN that "careless shoppers" are "probably the biggest threat" to workers. The union reported that 85% of its grocery store members say customers do not observe social distancing.
"Anything that reduces the need for interaction with the public and allows for greater social distancing will ultimately better protect grocery workers," John Logan, professor and director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University tells CNN. "Shuttering stores and repurposing them for pickup and delivery only would be a positive step."
Detractors say that online pickup and delivery options require a much larger staff and that could fill grocery stores with even more workers, which defeats the purpose of lowering the number of people in outlets. This would also cost the grocery stores more money in salaries, and for many stores, the recent increase in sales because of the coronavirus would be wiped out by having to increase payroll.
"I think that's one of the major reasons chains are reluctant to do the switch," said Logan. Low-income customers would also suffer, say experts, because they can't afford the fees that come with pickup and delivery services. According to CNN, most food stamp recipients are not permitted to use their benefits to buy groceries online. And experts add that delivery workers would still be exposed to potential infection.
Tom Mulholland, owner of Mulholland Grocery in Malvern, Iowa, decided to stop allowing customers in his store and moved to curbside delivery over two weeks ago, according to Iowa's KMTV.
"They'll call us, they'll text us or they will just come and beat on the door and say we're here," he says. "These people are doing it because they're scared. They don't want to go in the stores and they want to stay safe."
And Mike Houston, the general manager of Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op in Takoma Park, Maryland, closed his grocery store in late March and switched to curbside pickup.
"Any store still allowing hundreds of members of the public to enter every day is taking a calculated risk on behalf of their front line staff," Houston told CNN. "That is highly irresponsible to me."
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