Aging Well

The essentials of safe shopping for seniors during a pandemic

From masks and gloves to senior hours and new executive orders, here is what you need to know to shop safely, particularly if you are a senior.

Posted Updated
Navigating groceries during a pandemic
Liisa Ogburn

Understandably, many seniors I know are shying away from what seems their most risky exposure to coronavirus: grocery shopping. In the short-term, when the pantry was still relatively stocked with non-perishables, that solution worked. Five weeks later, especially for those without family or neighbors to pick up needed items, it is untenable.

Here are ways to get food, with varying levels of risk, and pros and cons to each.

  1. Go shopping during senior grocery store hours.
Many stores offer early morning shopping to seniors right after the store has been cleaned and stocked and before they open the store to the general public. Click here to view which stores offer senior hours, and what days and times they are offered.
  • If you are going out to shop yourself, look to stores with higher-level preventative measures.
  • While all stores have been ordered to put in place reminders to maintain a six-foot distance between shoppers and limit capacity to 20% of their fire capacity (or 5 people for every 1,000 feet), not all require cashiers to wear mask and gloves. Increasingly, stores are putting that in place on their own. The Fresh Market is the first to additionally require both cashiers and shoppers to wear a mask. This may become the new normal as some counties, most notably Durham starting today, are requiring that all citizens wear a mask when shopping. Keep in mind that the mask protects you from unintentionally spreading the virus if you have it, not necessarily protects your from getting it if you don’t. Geriatrician Leslie Kernisan recommends gloves, as a reminder to not touch your face while out shopping, which is a common way people pick up the virus when touching lots of surfaces where it may live and then touching their eyes or nose.
  • Order online using a third-party service.
  • Many stores (like Harris Teeter, Wegmans and Food Lion) offer a third-party delivery system, like InstaCart or Shopt, which employs contract labor to gather your list and either have it ready for pick-up or even deliver it to your home for a fee and tip. However, because of the demand, there is often a wait of as long as a week for fulfillment. Additionally, some users report that the web ordering interface is more complicated and less intuitive than ordering directly from some stores. List of stores offering grocery delivery and pick-up
  • Some stores (Weaver Street, Walmart, Target) allow you to order online directly from the store website for curbside pickup (usually by the next day).
  • There is usually a nominal fee, which is often waived for seniors. The stores may give you a number to display in the window or ask to see your receipt. Walmart offers delivery, too.
  • Sources of free food for seniors
  • While many food banks have closed due to the fact that their volunteers are older and vulnerable, there are still some in operation. Visit here to see names, locations and times.
    How safe is it to do your own shopping as a senior? Dr. Leslie Kernisan said it varies by location. Some regions, especially those who introduced social distancing early in the disease life, are reporting far fewer cases. This fact, when combined with other prudent actions, like going during senior shopping hours and wearing a mask and gloves, might make it nearly as safe as ordering from home, while also providing the not-insignificant mental health benefit of getting out of the house.


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