I went to the grocery store!

March 31, 2020 • 8:45 am

For me this was a big deal, as I haven’t been shopping since the lockdown started, and the scary videos you see on YouTube about how to sanitize your groceries made me apprehensive. Plus I’ve just hit the “old people” age, though I’m healthy. But after an e-lecture by my surrogate mother Malgorzata about the need to stop worrying, I approached this calmly and resolutely as if I were assigned to enter a war zone, or, as I’ve put it, “About to cross the River Styx.”

I checked with my doctor earlier this week about the need for masks and gloves, and he said I needed neither so long as I didn’t touch my face; but he added that if I had anxiety about it, I should wear a mask (he knows me well). Actually, I donned a cheap mask, a pair of latex gloves, and I wiped off the shopping-cart handle with isopropyl alcohol.

The store was our giant local Jewel-Osco, and I went at 6:45 a.m. to ensure fewer people. Once inside, my worries abated, as there were very few people, almost none of them wearing protective gear. I made sure to stay 6 feet away from people, and proceeded to do a large buy of staples, including milk, bread, eggs, peanut butter, black beans (my go-to “quarantine food”, eaten with rice and other goodies). The stuff like milk and ice cream were wiped down with 70% ethanol before being put in the refrigerator, while the non-perishables are sitting in my car trunk for a day to help them decontaminate.

Outside the store, I removed my gloves and my mask, having mastered the technique of removing gloves without touching their outside. I avoided touching my face, and, at home, I did a big scrub of my hands and even put ethanol on my keys, as I’d driven my car. Much of this may be unnecessary, but it makes me feel safer. It wasn’t onerous.

One note: although all the employees were wearing masks and gloves, almost none of the few customers were wearing either. I think some of them thought that my mask meant that I actually had the virus, because they looked at me oddly and stayed well away from me. One woman wouldn’t even pass me in the aisle with her grocery cart (that, of course, is less than six feet apart), but she looked frightened, and I felt bad about that.

At any rate, I made it, and don’t have to go shopping for perhaps two more weeks. Only time will tell whether this outing got me infected, but I doubt it and I’m not going to worry about it.

Photo from Vox‘s useful guide to grocery shopping during the pandemic; they don’t recommend wearing either gloves or a mask.


63 thoughts on “I went to the grocery store!

      1. I see you bought black beans and rice (the staple of Cuban cuisine) on your trip to market. Any chance you have a bit of Jewban in you (along with all the Irish), or just up to your old cultural-appropriation tricks again? 🙂

        1. I’m also guilty of that particular cultural appropriation – black beans and white rice, or moros y cristianos. We got the recipe from my wife’s aunt, who spent many years in Cuba. Needless to say it never comes out as well as hers did. Sadly, she’s been bed-bound in a nursing home in northern Spain for the past few years.

          1. The standard fare in South Florida Cuban restaurants is to serve the beans (black or red) and rice (white or yellow) separately as a side dish with most entrées. When the white rice and beans are cooked together it’s called either moros or congri.

  1. There is a reversal being floated in Washington, where it may now be recommended that people should wear masks after all. The idea is that if one is asymptomatic, a mask would interfere with your transmitting it to others.
    I don’t believe that most masks make much of a difference with that however.

    1. The advice I’ve been seeing is that it does make a difference by preventing the person from getting droplets onto shared surfaces. Anything saliva/etc that gets trapped in your mask is a bit that you don’t share with anyone else.

      1. I touch my face all time, particularly my nose. A mask helps remind me not to touch my face. For that reason alone it is worth it.

        On a gloomy side note, I’ve done mass spectroscopy with a system capable of analyzing the air and I could breath into the air several meters (>4m) away from the spectrometer and the mass spec could detect CO2. Scary. Of course CO2 is not an aerosol.

      2. Yes, masks do help people remember not to touch their faces. In addition to that reason for wearing a mask, I’ve been reading a lot about viral load. Researchers are comparing the severity of an infection with the viral load the person was exposed to in order to ascertain whether the viral load has anything to do with the severity of infection.

        Lacking dispositive information, I prefer to err on the side of caution, so I’d imagine that a face mask would go a ways toward keeping transmission down, even if it’s drop by drop, that’s good enough for me.

    2. Asymptomatic spreaders are a substantial problem (maybe 25%) and therefore everyone should wear a mask for indoor contexts.

      My guess is that the reasons masks have been discouraged until now in the U.S. is that there is a shortage of them, it is better to reserve them for health care workers, and the extent of asymptotic spreaders was previously not known.

      1. Yes, this is exactly right. The mask is not to protect you, but to protect others. And people who recommend not wearing masks are probably taking into consideration the need to prioritize health workers and sick people if there is a shortage of masks.

  2. Wearing a mask made me realize how dependent we are on facial gestures. I waved somebody to go ahead of me and I know I smiled at them while doing so but they can’t see that. How do you know that I was waving them by because, “Yeah you jerk go ahead” or “You were here first, please go ahead” without seeing facial cues?

    1. That suggests a new product: “Emojis on a stick”, or some such thing. You can rotate in the expression you want and point it at someone to let them know how you feel. Unlike the interwebs, you’re now in close proximity, so you should be especially careful what you flash.

    1. Yes, I put them in the trash bin outside the store, along with the mask. I have enough old cheap masks in the lab to keep me going for a while (they’re so old the rubber bands keep breaking).

      1. I just saw a hack on elastic bands. You can cut open a bungee cord which contains many elastic bands you can use for face masks.

          1. She was a black lab mix as far as we can tell. Like thousands of similar dogs, but unique to us. Gone now, and much missed.

  3. Went shopping in an Auchan supermarket this morning in Hungary. About half of the staff were wearing masks. A lot of staff wear gloves anyway. We have shopping hours from 9 to 12 for the old in the morning,that includes us.

    We wore both masks and gloves as did about half the shoppers. Due to previous amnesiac shopping we already had a large reserve of gloves so we can just replace them as necessary and clean the used ones in bulk. On the streets it appears that most of the population have nitrile gloves and there were a lot of cycling masks as well as surgical masks.

    People are taking things quite seriously and away from the city the motorway was nearly empty. The warning signs over the roads have been changed to say ‘stay at home’

  4. We have a couple of N-95 masks because my husband works with wood and aerosol paint. We both wore masks to the grocery store. It is hard to communicate — people can’t hear you — but I feel better wearing a mask. Glad you had a successful grocery run.

    Take care!

  5. Very glad to hear this. My view is a lot of it seems silly but it’s quick, it’s done once, and the peace of mind is worth it.

    Only suggestion I’ll cram in is to deploy multiple pairs of gloves in key locations like car, etc.

    Only caution I’d suggest is ample ventilation with isopropanol. Don’t ask me how I know.

    1. Also

      Rinse out the nasal cavity gently but thoroughly. Don’t want that stuff sitting in there long.

  6. I just got back from trying to go to Senior Hour at Costco – the line stretched all the way across the front of the store (outside). It probably would have taken 45 min to get inside.

    I guess I’ll just go back during regular hours – my son said it wasn’t bad yesterday. Now the question is whether I should wear my P95 Darth-Vader respirator….

      1. I agree – senior hours tend to be way much more crowded than regular hours. We saw a senior line at Kings Soopers that was close to 100 people long, and drove across the street to a Safeway with normal hours – no lines, and hardly anyone in the store.

        The Trader Joe’s in the Denver/Boulder area have been doing a good job with managing shopping. They sanitize all carts between users, they limit the number of shoppers in the store, and if there is a line waiting to get in, they have markers on the sidewalks that are at least 6 feet apart to ensure physical distancing.

  7. When I watched crews in S. Korea and China spraying sidewalks and streets with disinfectants my first thought was that this is a waste of time and resources. I think that this may be an overlooked source of infection that needs more attention. English uses many glottal stops which often involve explosive release of air. In extreme cases, we have all spoken with people who showered us with a rain of spittle. Small droplets normally produced by glottal stops cannot be felt. Let’s assume that you are staying 6 feet away from people. Do you have infection problems walking around a store with plastic tile flooring? I think so. From earlier discussions here, the virus could stay at an infectious level on the floor for more than 2 days.
    Tiny droplets settle slowly to the ground at a rate that is easy to calculate. Under standard conditions, 10 micron drops (10% the diameter of a human hair) fall to the ground in about 500 seconds (of course, larger drops fall faster) and accumulate for a day or more. This suggests that it’s smart to careful with shoes after walking around in a store. Virus could be carried back into your house, and touching shoe soles is a very bad idea. A solution I use: shop early and use disposable shoe covers. Hopefully the stores disinfect floors at night, but they may not all be so clean.

    1. That’s a very good observation. Even in normal times, my dentist (who is Iranian) makes his patients put on disposable shoe covers before they walk into his “operating room”. I wondered why, but you’ve explained it well.

  8. Glad someone else likes black beans! My wife thinks I am nuts and won’t eat them. Sunday I made a batch of black bean burgers and that has been my lunch all week. Really easy to make and lots of good recipes online. not to mention nutritious.

    Glad you had a good shopping excursion. You did everything right!

        1. I am with you. Not sure why, but I just don’t like them, but I love beans in general. Fortunately, I live in New Mexico and black beans are not part of the local cuisine.

  9. I also have face shields to use when the infection rate gets higher in ND. A mask covers your nose and mouth, but doesn’t protect your eyes. Without a face shield, masks are (as mentioned earlier) useful mainly to protect others.

  10. People absolutely should be wearing a mask out in public. The messaging and rationale behind it from the beginning have been wrong. And not only has that been unhelpful in fighting the virus, because in fact encouraging the general population to wear a simple mask in all public settings would help drop the transmission of the virus, but it likely backfired and promoted hoarding of masks by the general public which left healthcare workers in short supply.




    Also you definitely did the right thing in being cautious regardless. I keep a spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol in my car and I use it to spray down my hands and personal items and anything I’ve purchased at the store.

  11. One note: although all the employees were wearing masks and gloves, almost none of the few customers were wearing either.

    This makes sense, if you think about it, and it shouldn’t cause anyone to worry. The customers are exposed to the ‘store population’ for ~1 hr/week, while the workers are exposed for 8 hrs/day. Their contact risk is much higher. So while it admittedly looks weird, nobody’s doing anything wrong if the store contains workers wearing masks and customers not doing so.

    It’s the same reason the dentist steps out of the room when they give you a dental x-ray. At first blush, that seems selfish and inconsiderate – what, they think it’s okay for you to get that x-ray dose but not them? But in reality, they probably give those x-rays 4 times/day while you get yours 2/year. So of course it makes sense for them to not be exposed the same time their customers are.

  12. Also beware

    Isopropyl alcohol presents a fire hazard

    Read up on the warnings

    Don’t use near pilot flames, open flames, etc. don’t store in the car – it is a risk increase. It’s easy to have a small mistake become a costly one. Have a good source of water ready nearby. Etc. Familiarity is not a substitute for safety or caution.

    Sorry but I had to say it.

  13. Glad to see your trip shopping went well, Jerry.

    We all feel that anxiety.

    While self-isolating for 14 days after a trip we tried various on-line grocery systems, none of which were of use because at that point they either took weeks for delivery, or were out of virtually everything we needed!

    Fortunately some friends and family helped us out.

    I had an alternative “pandemic dilemma” yesterday:

    Our stove has stopped working properly and it needs to be fixed. Of course the last thing we want is inviting someone in to the house, especially a repairman who is visiting many other houses. But…if we wait longer and the problem gets worse, the spread of the virus only gets wider in the city, which means an ever-increasing chance of the repair guy carrying the virus.

    I looked up reviews for local appliance repair, found one with good reviews, in particular new ones mentioning how professional “X” company was, the repair guy showing up in mask, gloves, etc.

    So I made an appointment and the repairman showed up yesterday. Well, this clearly wasn’t the repair-man mentioned in the reviews. He was about to walk in the house, no gloves, no mask and I stopped him “Don’t you have gloves and a mask?” He looked baffled and then (in a very thick accent that made all subsequent communication difficult) said “ah, ok….”

    He came back with a mask and gloves.

    But once he was in our kitchen I noticed he only had the mask over his mouth – he was breathing freely in to the kitchen through his nose. I said “Excuse me, but the mask is supposed to cover your nose too, would you mind covering your nose?” He seemed like he didn’t want to, but capitulated.

    Every time he called me “sir” to talk to me, he trudged towards me to try to stand next to me with no apparent clue about social distances. I kept backing away saying “it’s ok, I can hear you from here.”

    As he talked he’d touch cabinets, lean his arms and hands on counters…just generally touching far more in the kitchen than he should, needlessly, as I’m thinking “ok, another surface to be cleaned, there…”

    Finally left, with the stove not really fixed.

    I did quite a cleaning in that kitchen when he left! And of course you have to worry in the presence of someone so obviously clueless about the situation, that they have been carrying on in a clueless way and are more likely to have the virus. (Though he didn’t seem ill, at least).


  14. Per the W.H.O.: The coronavirus is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. Yet they also claim “FACT: COVID19 is NOT airborne.”

    Most folks do not distinguish between droplets and aerosols so the above seems contradictory. Data is conflicting and some epidemiologists/aerobiologists claim airborne. Adding to the confusion, there are videos circulating of Tedros Adhanom stating coronavirus IS airborne.

    Assume it is airborne and that someone will stealthily encroach on your 6-ft. bubble and cough or sneeze near you or that you will walk into a space that has recently been coughed or sneezed into or that you are asymptomatic and will spontaneously cough or sneeze.

    Wear a mask.

  15. I don’t have a mask so I’ve worn a balaclava in the stores. “You don’t need to wear a mask” is not enough to convince me not to wear one. Keeping six feet away is impossible in the aisles when passing someone. And all it takes is one person to cough or sneeze. I’m not taking any chances, I’d rather play it safe.

    As soon as I get home I wash my hands. Then I unpack the groceries. Then when everything’s done I wash my hands again.

    I look at it this way: I’d rather take a few extra seconds to be extra careful than catch this virus.

  16. I’ll report my experience with online grocery shopping which I am scheduled to pick up in a few minutes.

    After failing to get a delivery timeslot from Amazon Fresh, I read some articles on online grocery shopping. They seemed to think Walmart was one of the best so I tried it.

    – Unlike Amazon, their website asks you to reserve a pickup time slot BEFORE you fill your “cart”. Certainly better than wasting time shopping only to find there are no available time slots.

    – The Walmart website works really well. I can’t recall any shopping website working better. They did a really nice job.

    – Most of the normal items I would by were “out of stock”. I found adequate substitutes for half of them. Does seem strange that one can’t order ground beef though.

    – They just sent me an email saying that quite a few of the items I had actually ordered were, in fact, not available and that they had substituted for some of them. Some of the substitutes were ok (eg, one brand for another) but some were really silly (a bag of spinach for a jar of red cabbage). I get to specify which substitutes I will keep and which I reject.

    Ok, I’m off to pick them up.

    1. Paul,

      Sounds better than some of our on-line grocery stores. In the case of our local grocery store chain you can order on-line for pick up, which is usually a gap of about 3 days. But you only find out if they had your items the day you go to pick it up (and both tries, they had almost none of the items).

      Similarly the largest on-line version, Grocery Gateway, you select your food, but it doesn’t ship for two weeks and only after two weeks waiting do you find out if they had your items! I was told by Grocery Gateway it’s because they only start “shopping” to fill an order the day of pick up.

      It would be so much better if we could know what was actually available when trying to order, rather than this useless mess.

    2. We’ve had two deliveries from our local food coop using InstaCart. In both cases there have been some substitutions and some refunds for products that were unavailable. But the app works well and substations can be pre-approved or done via text messaging in their app while the shopping is happening. My hat is off to the folk who have done the work.

      We’re expecting our second delivery from Whole Foods later today. Their process is worse than InstaCart. Paul’s comment about not being able to get a delivery slot AFTER putting time into selecting product is spot-on. REEALLY annoying. Still, I managed to get a slot later today and will be able to get some frozen fish, unavailable at the coop.

    3. I’m back. Everything was smooth and safe. I parked in one of the designated stalls and called the phone number on the sign. They brought my stuff out on a cart and put it straight in the trunk. My wife and I processed it on a table outside and now we’re done.

      All in all it went well but the number of basics that they are “out of stock” on is the biggest flaw. Perhaps this is mostly a Walmart problem. Still seems safer than going into the store, though I had to go in a 7-Eleven on the way back to get half-and-half. I’ve got to have that for my coffee.

  17. Masks at the grocery store aren’t that uncommon here in Oregon. I would guess about 15% of shoppers are wearing them.

    The grocery store near my cats vet clinic was really serious about it. Probably half the shoppers had masks and they had attendants at the door with disinfectant spray. They would disinfect the handlebar on any cart someone was about to use and they had a clearly labelled stack of disinfected handbaskets kept separate from the recently returned one. At the register, they had spaced circles on the floors with the text “stand here” going back into the aisles so people would stay 6 feet apart in line.

    Having the cat at the vet was interesting. The lobby was closed. You had to phone the office for them to come outside and pick up your cat. The consultation was done with you in your car on a cell phone talking to the vet inside with your cat.

    1. Actually, we have something similar at our vets even before the crisis. They have a nice outside courtyard in which to wait and they call for us and our pets when ready from their back door.

      I wonder if some of these practices will continue after the pandemic is over? Clearly there will be a lot of practices that were forced to change, causing people to learn new skills. They will find some they like and will continue them.

  18. The most important thing about masks may be to know that only masks of the type FFP3 and maybe the weaker FFP2 (Europe), or class N, R, or P (USA) can protect the wearer from breathing in corona droplets in the air.

    In contrast, more simple masks like the common “OP masks” or self-made masks mainly protect other people from your own spit or cough. They may also protect you somewhat from a direct spit in the face, or keep them from touching their face with their hands, but that is an almost negligible effect when it comes to self-protection.

    On the other hand, a mask could make people careless if they overvalue its protective quality. Also, people tend to underestimate how uncomfortable any mask will get after more than 10-20 minutes.

    According to many virologists and epidemiologists, keeping your distance of 1.5 to 2 meters, avoiding to touch your face with unwashed hands, and washing your hands thoroughly for 20-30 seconds whenever you touched potentially contaminated surfaces is the most effective protection from SARS-Cov-2 in your everyday life.

    That said, some virologists also say that you’re welcome to wear even a weaker mask in the public to show that you’re willing to protect others around you, even though it is uncomfortable or maybe even embarrassing. But be aware of its limitations and don’t neglect the more important precautions.

    Sorry for the preaching, it’s just a collection of what I learned by following the experts’ statements on a daily basis.

  19. Dear PCCE,

    out of honest curiosity, why the gloves?

    SARS-CoV-2 can’t infect you through the skin of your hands, and you shouldn’t touch your face with or without gloves while being outside. The only difference seems to be that after coming home, you either have to take of the gloves or wash your hands thoroughly, whereby the former produces plastic waste every time. Is it mere psychology as you mentioned or do I miss something else?

    I wish you well.

    1. I would think that the gloves stop one from touching one’s face besides some protection against transmitting the virus. Although the virus is often transmitted via water droplets, I’m betting that epidemiologists aren’t guaranteeing it can’t be transmitted other ways, such as through a small cut on your hands. Hand washing is not guaranteed to kill all virus either. All protections are a matter of reducing probabilities but never to zero.

      1. As far as I know, this virus can’t infect you through your blood, it has to reach your throat or lungs by breathing it in or swallowing it.

        The different methods reduce the probabilities of infection to a different extent. The goal is to use as many highly effective methods as possible while not wasting time and effort (and nerves) on lesser or even not effective ones.

    2. I’ve found that having gloves on really does make me mindful about not touching my face. But I won’t use them to, say, handle boxes delivered to my home or other quick “contamination possibilities”

      1. Ah, I can understand that only too well. The uncommon makes us attentive to otherwise automatic behaviour. Thanks for the explanation.

    3. I have been out with gloves now a couple of times and I’m quite sure I have never touched my face with a gloved hand. Normally, I’m like the average human and touch my face many times per hour. So, from my experience gloves are valuable.

    1. Actually, when my girlfriend and I are taking a walk in these days (one of the few outdoor activities that are still allowed in my city), we sometimes call other people “zombies” if they appear in our path and we don’t want to pass them too closely. 🙂 (“Let go down this street.” – “No! Look, there’s a zombie!”)

  20. I have made several cloth masks at home. They are lined and have a pipe cleaner embedded across the top so that the mask can be molded to my face, and a long wide pocket on the inside into which I put a “wet one” or similar that contains alcohol. I also have several pairs of cotton gloves that I soak in Napisan when I come home then hang up to dry ready for the next outing. I wear the mask and gloves all the time when I am shopping. You stand only a couple of feet away from the checkout operator who is exposed to hundreds of people a day, some of whom may be asymptomatic. Better to be sure than sorry.

    1. In my city (Berlin, Germany) more and more shops install “spit shields”, as I call them, i.e. transparent plexiglass barriers between the cashier and the customer, leaving only a small pass-through to exchange money or cash cards.

Leave a Reply