Why Some Grocery Stores Want To Ban Customers

As the global coronavirus pandemic rages on, people are being encouraged to stay at home for all but essential tasks like going to the doctor or shopping for groceries. Now, however, even grocery shopping may become a thing of the past, at least for the duration of the pandemic.

If this happens, we'll still be able to shop for food, but many grocery stores are calling for a total shift to delivery and pickup and want to close their doors to shoppers. While this sounds like it would be an extreme move, if grocery doors do shut it will be to protect workers. As Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers' union told CNN that "careless customers" who aren't practicing social distancing in grocery stores are "probably the biggest threat" to grocery store workers. According to the union, 85 percent of its members who work in grocery stores have reported that customers aren't taking proper precautions when shopping in person and are coming into close contact with them. 

"Anything that reduces the need for interaction with the public and allows for greater physical distancing will ultimately better protect grocery workers," John Logan, professor and director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University told the outlet. "Shuttering stores and repurposing them for pickup and delivery only would be a positive step."

Many grocery stores will probably stay open

Many smaller grocery stores have already closed their doors to shoppers. One grocery store manager in Maryland, Mike Houston, said that his store switched to curbside pickup in late March. "I'm unwilling to put grocery store employees, essential though we are, in a position to risk what can be a fatal infection," he said.

According to a report from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, more than two dozen supermarket employees have died because of COVID-19, and thousands more may have the virus (per USA Today).

While it's unlikely that we will see all the grocery stores in the country shut their doors, it's likely that at least some of them will close their doors or reduce their hours. All stores moving to pickup and delivery seems unrealistic right now, though, as both systems have been overwhelmed by demand in recent weeks. "They have to stay open," Seth Harris, who served as deputy secretary of labor during the Obama administration, said. "[America's grocery] delivery system has not matured to the point where we can switch to an entirely remote system."