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‘Stay two carts apart’: Grocery shopping no longer a no-brainer, amid COVID-19

Albertsons checkout sign Barney 321
Barney Lerten/KTVZ
Sign of the troubling times in the checkout line at Bend Albertsons on Saturday

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Central Oregon grocery stores, the traditional, informal gathering spot and now focus of so much attention as they remain an essential, open place during the COVID-19 outbreak, have begun putting tape on the floor, signs on the checkstands and pleasant messages on the loudspeakers:

Spread out.

The big chains are following Centers for Disease Control guidelines and, as Bend-area Albertsons and Safeway are now displaying, reminding shoppers at the checkout (shouldn't it be as you enter the store?) to "stay two carts apart," about six feet -- the length of two shopping carts.

The stores are also putting yellow taped lines (or red X's) on the floors as a visual reminder of keeping one's distance. "Hey! Social distancing, remember!?"

Anyone who does the family grocery shopping regularly knows that while some fellow shoppers are attentive, some are often in the way, or trying to get by, sometimes with no "pardon me" or "excuse me" -- or just ... zonked out and not thinking about things (or others) in the sometimes narrow aisles that often have specials or other items that make them even narrower and require a sort of "Dance of the Shopping Carts." Or just "common courtesy" (yeah, remember that?)

The new Safeway-Albertsons sheet atop the "wet floor" cones spells out some fine-print requests that many on a typical Saturday may not have noticed, beyond the "enhanced cleaning and sanitation" by employees, amid the new, unsettling ebb and flow of the empty spots on shelves, beyond the decimated tissue, bathroom tissue and paper towel aisle.

Stores have run out of things, for many reasons, forever. But whole aisles totally empty really drive the worry home. "What if...."?

Like many aspects of the everyday rhythm of life, things usually taken for granted at supermarkets, for decades, except during big snowstorms or Thanksgiving week, suddenly are not so much. "Will the bananas return this week?" (They did, whew -- but hey, what about next week?)

Those floor markers actually are "designed waiting/gathering points," the notice says.

And now, you're not supposed to even start putting your groceries on the moving turntable until the shopper in front of you is all bagged, got their change and is moving on. That could really back things up, especially if some checkout lines aren't open (and a whole lot of "now hiring" signs have emerged, which can be seen as a good thing -- if folks can fill them).

Pharmacy waiting lines have for some time had a little sign that tells you to stay a few feet back, so as to not violate patient privacy guidelines.

But that might be a lot less unnerving than the occasional (for now) grocery shopper wearing a mask, or someone who happens to cough or sneeze.

Few used to notice, or pay much attention, to such things, as they hunt for the pinto beans or taco shells, or keep the kids from hot-footing it to the candy or cereal aisle.

But that was ... before.

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.


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