The Grocery Store, Coronavirus Diary, March 19 2020

The Grocery Store, Coronavirus Diary, March 19 2020 March 19, 2020

Who knew going to the grocery store could be so treacherous?

I lay out the game plan on the way home: Take the bags in; careful handwashing. Take the groceries out, toss the bags, repeat the handwashing. But, of course, it dawns on me later that everything we bought still has been touched by at least three people: the person(s) who restocks shelves, the cashier, AND the bagger.

What pathogens might linger?

The grocery store: handmade disinfectant, anyone?

Who knew just going to the grocery store would become such a fearful, if a bit fruitless, adventure?

Of the two grocery stores closest to our home, one currently offers “senior citizen hours,” i.e., only we olders get to shop from opening time to 9 am, Mondays and Thursdays. It has been a week since my last trip. Time to restock some fresh things and a few staples.

We ventured out, took the dog to his regular Thursday doggie daycare fun (with a careful no-touch handoff), and drove through the surreal lack of morning traffic.

The grocery store boasted a reasonably full parking lot, but not overwhelmingly so. We don’t frequent this particular store, so, after wiping down the cart handle, we entered the unfamiliar layout, needing to traverse every aisle looking for the things on our list.

Keeping our distance at the grocery store

Shoppers, all of us clearly of a certain age, graciously kept the required six-foot distance from one another. Deli area seemed relatively well supplied, although all self-serve trays, like the olive bar and/or salad bars, sat bare.

Our big concern was fresh produce, and we did OK there. Got mandarins, strawberries–really beautiful ones, cucumbers, etc. Realized only after getting home that I should have bought some fresh peppers but also don’t remember seeing any there.

About 20% of the shelves in that area were bare.

Searched for a package of dried black-eyed peas as I like them. Zip, zero, none. I went ahead and picked up a package of navy beans as I can make soup from them. There were two others left. Almost no rice.

We were not shopping for meat, but I did notice the shelves were quite bare. The large fresh fish area, however, seemed well-stocked.

We looked in vain for just a small bottle of bleach and a smidgen of hand-sanitizer. Yeah, right. What planet do I live on anyway?

The Grocery Store Touch

As we wandered, I suddenly realize how many different things we touch with normal shopping habits. I had looked for a salad mix–the first two I picked up showed evidence of having been bagged too long. But what to do? I didn’t want to buy them, but put them back? I had handled them. I did put them back but now . . . I must find a different solution.

Out of curiosity, we glanced at the paper goods aisle—empty shelves. What fascinated me was the lack of disposable plates and cups. Clearly, I’m not the only one with a great deal of kitchen clean-up suddenly in front of me, with both of us eating all our meals here. And that’s just two of us!

By the way, I am now saving newspapers to use as substitute paper towels when our dwindling supply runs out. We long ago picked up the habit of using cloth napkins with our meals, so that is not a problem.

What pathogens lurk on our hands?
What pathogens lurk on our hands?

We check out. No self-check kiosks here, which I would find delightful under other circumstances

The bagger coughs into her coat collar–then slips away for a moment. I take over the bagging. When she gets back, she says, “Allergies. Needed a cough drop and water.” I sympathize. Both my husband and I have had to deal with allergy-coughs the last few days, but, of course, any coughs draw all sorts of suspicious looks.

I lay out the game plan on the way home: Take the bags in, then both of us do careful handwashing. Take the groceries out, toss the bags, and then repeat the handwashing. But, of course, it dawns on me later that everything we bought still has been touched by at least three people: the person(s) who restock shelves, the cashier and the bagger.

What pathogens may lurk on their surfaces? Who knew going to the grocery store could be so treacherous?

When we started the car in the grocery store lot, the “change oil soon” indicator came on. So, after unpacking groceries and the second handwashing, I offer to follow my husband to the usual service place to get that done.

He agrees, and we prepare to leave again. Then it dawns on me: when we got home with the groceries, one or both of us had touched the door handles PLUS things on and in the car. I grab a couple of the few alcohol wipes we still have, instruct my husband to wipe down his door handle and the steering wheel, and I go after the other door handles.

We get back, I open the back door with my elbow, and I remind my husband to wash his hands again. Immediately. He agreed and then touches the button to close the garage door before coming in. I gasp in dismay.

I remind him to drop the handkerchief he has used to blow his allergy-affected nose into the laundry on the way in. While he is washing his hands, I proceed to sanitize both our phones with some scarce hydrogen peroxide.

In the meantime, I am thinking, “OK, can I make disinfectant and hand sanitizer with the extra strength vinegar I keep on hand to kill weeds?”

Well, most sites I checked say, “no” but they are all only talking about the measly, normal household 5% acidity distilled white vinegar. I’ve got the real killer deal: 30% acidity. The addition of some salt and a tiny bit of dishwashing liquid, plus a bit of sunshine, and this stuff will kill any weed around with no residual toxicity to hurt pets or humans.

I did find one resource that suggests the usual acidity level is highly effective as a sanitizing agent, so I figure I’m good. I’ll dilute it somewhat, and use it as a spray disinfectant, mix some more with the aloe vera gel I was able to procure, toss in some lavender oil for good measure, and give it a try.

Got to be better than nothing. And nothing is what I’ve got right now.

All this to do my best to keep two older people healthy. We have temporarily stopped the luxury of a weekly housecleaning service (although we are paying them–this is not their fault), so I need to do at least some of their work today. I think it important to stay in a routine.

Is the earth cleansing itself of its pollution?

And all through the morning adventure in the grocery store, I find myself trying to wrap my mind around what is happening. I said to my husband earlier, “It is almost as though the earth, as a living entity, has decided to cleanse itself of too many people, and especially too many older, ill individuals.”

It’s an awful thought, but suppose it needs to get rid of some of us, who have so polluted this planet, just like we need to eradicate some viruses?

I barely glanced at the morning papers. The article that quickly put me under today was one in the Wall Street Journal about the way religious gatherings, particularly but hardly limited to the Muslim world, are facilitating the rapid spread of the virus.

I have copied one section of the article for your reading pleasure:

Pakistan is grappling with soaring infections among pilgrims who returned from Iran, exacerbated by a poorly-managed quarantine facility set up for them. The Iranian city of Qom, which many of the Shiite pilgrims from Pakistan visited, lies at the center of Iran’s outbreak, among the worst in the world.

Friday Prayers at the mosque in Lahore, Pakistan
Friday Prayers at the mosque in Lahore, Pakistan

At Pakistan’s quarantine facility—which has housed nearly 5,000 pilgrims—people are closely packed together in unhygienic surroundings. The country’s health minister, Zafar Mirza, said this week that conditions “are not ideal” at the facility, located in the sparsely-populated Balochistan province.

But the problem is no longer limited to that area. Around 2,600 pilgrims who completed their two-week quarantine left. Few were tested there as authorities didn’t have the necessary facilities, said Liaquat Shahwani, a spokesman for the provincial government of Balochistan.

“It was a makeshift arrangement. This is a desert location, not Islamabad,” said Mr. Shahwani. “We’ve done what we could.”

Authorities are discovering the scale of the spread as those pilgrims are tested in or near their hometowns. In the southern province of Sindh, out of 274 tested so far, 140 people are infected, said Saeed Ghani, a provincial minister. Out of 19 people tested in the northern-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 15 have the illness.

As a result, coronavirus cases in Pakistan soared this week, from 52 cases on Sunday to 247 cases on Wednesday. Pakistani authorities on Wednesday reported the country’s first deaths. One was a 50-year-old man who had gone on a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, arriving back earlier this month.

The Guardian has this to say about the Pakistani facility:

It was the smell that was the worst. In this dusty camp on Pakistan’s border with Iran, which at one stage held more than 6,000 people, the stench of sweat, rubbish and human excrement hung in the air. There was no real housing, just five people to a ragged tent, and no bathrooms, towels or blankets.

Oh dear. And then we listened briefly to NPR on the way home as some are now asking, “What about the large homeless population? How are we going to keep them isolated?”

Goodness only knows.

What a royal mess. Let’s all continue keeping our physical distance, wash our hands, stay in steadying prayer, seek wisdom, and do everything possible to help everyone we can. We are all in this together.

We will see our Easter after all this, and I bet it will surprise us all. Even now, we see amazingly improved air quality, and the filthy, polluted canals of Venice are clearing.

There are lessons to be learned. Let’s pay attention.

Photo credits: (c) Christy Thomas, all rights reserved

By Pak Pics (Credit line on source given) – The photo is available at, CC BY-SA 1.0, Link
Photo credit: Mark O Rourke Photography on Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

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