Although Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a ban on gatherings of more than 25 people Monday in attempts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, businesses like grocery stores and retail outlets are exempt from that rule.
Due to statewide school closures, a growing number of diagnosed cases of the COVID-19 virus and other factors, people have been flocking to grocery stores in hordes to stock up on items like non-perishable food and toilet paper.
“Despite the limitations on large gatherings, we know that people need to get their groceries,” Dr. Paul Cieslak with the Oregon Health Authority said. He said the state agency has no plan to limit the amount of people in stores.
Some stores in the region are taking it into their own hands to set aside shopping hours for community members who are at a greater risk for the COVID-19 illness.
New Seasons said it is asking its customers to observe a 'Senior Shopping Hour' from 8 to 9 a.m. each weekday. The store’s senior discount, which usually is only available on Wednesdays, will also be available each weekday.
“We won’t be checking ID at the door but are engaging our customers in helping us support our community members at risk for illness,” Julie Teune with New Seasons’ communications team said.
She said the store is also “evaluating how we can continue to take significant, precautionary measures, including steps to ensure social distancing within our stores to support the safety of our staff and customers.”
Safeway and Albertsons, which operate under the same company, will also be providing designated hours for specific vulnerable groups, including elderly people, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems at its more than 2,000 stores nationwide.
“We will reserve every Tuesday and Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. for those vulnerable shoppers who must leave home to obtain their groceries, unless otherwise locally mandated,” the company said in a statement. “We are asking that our customers help us reserve this shopping time for those most at risk in our communities.”
Whole Foods Market is also doing something similar.
The company said starting Wednesday all Whole Foods stores in the U.S. and Canada will allow customers who are 60 and older to shop one hour before stores open to the general public.
“We are setting aside this time to help these customers, who national health authorities have identified as among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, feel more comfortable shopping our stores and helping to ensure they are able to get the items they need in a less crowded environment,” the company said in a statement.
Green Zebra Grocery said it is also offering shopping hours for the “high risk population” from 7 to 8 a.m.
Cieslak, with OHA, said he’s hoping to see the crowds lessen soon.
“We’re hoping that that all settles down because we’re in this for the long haul,” Cieslak said. “And people are going to return to their usual grocery shopping habits, and I think that the problem will mitigate itself to some degree.”
In the meantime, Cieslak encourages people to try to keep at 6-foot distance from other people while shopping and avoid frequently touching items and putting them back onto shelves.