Post #599: Safeway, are you crazy? Or just stupid? CORRECTED

Posted on April 3, 2020

On the plus side, the Safeway was nearly fully stocked.  Yes, they have bananas.  Produce was fully stocked.  Butter and eggs were there, but skimpy.  Milk was little moth-eaten, but anything you’d want, they had some.  Still light on cooking oil.  Rice was fine.  Poultry was still a little scanty (but they had chicken wings at $0.99/lb).

All in all, they are to be commended on getting on with their business.  Except for TP, the place looked more-or-less normal.

On the minus side, many employees were not wearing masks.  Many employees were not maintaining “social distance” from each other.

I mean, sure, I expected some of the customers to ignore the current CDC guidance.  And, in the past, because CDC said we didn’t need to wear masks in public, I could forgive stores that didn’t impose that on employees.  No matter how foolish I thought that was.

But now?  Grocery store clerks, including at checkouts, not wearing even a rudimentary mask? Other stores are at least putting up plastic guards between customer and checkout clerk?  Not here.

I am a loyal, lifelong Safeway customer.  When they shut their Vienna store, I dutifully began shopping at Pan Am.  And I’m not going back there until the epidemic is over.  Maybe not even then.  Not if I can find a store that will follow anticipate current CDC guidance.

Let’s briefly review what has changed.

A week ago, CDC was saying that COVID-19 was primarily spread by droplet transmission from symptomatic individuals.  So, stay out of range of droplets when an obviously sick person coughs or sneezes, and hey, you’ll be OK.  No need to wear a mask.

That obviously wasn’t right.   You really couldn’t explain the spread of disease that way.  I mean, do you really think they let somebody who was coughing and hacking near Boris Johnson?  I don’t.

Today?  Now CDC says, well, maybe this is being spread by asymptomatic individuals.  Don’t look sick, don’t feel sick, don’t sound sick.  Maybe you spew droplets just by talking.  No sneezing or coughing needed.  And — not clear if they are saying it or not, but true nevertheless  — clearly some of this is aerosol spread, for which, indoors, there is no “out-of-range”.

(If you don’t understand droplet versus aerosol, look them up in my prior posts.)

And so, the facts have changed, and the CDC has changed will soon change its mind.  Everybody needs to mask up in public.  Social distancing is not enough.  Particularly not when the head of the Chinese CDC called failing to require masks in public “The big mistake” that the US and Europe were making.

This disease has a median 5 to 6 day incubation period.  That’s the time lag between when you are infected, and when you feel ill.  Fairfax County Schools have been closed for 21 days now.  I assume we’ve all been doing our social distancing during that time period.  And today, Fairfax is set to record its 400th case.

Surely we can all do math here, right?  We are seeing new cases that had to have been infected way, way after the start of social distancing.  COVID-19 is still spreading, for now, despite social distancing. 

Doesn’t anybody get this?  We haven’t fixed it.  We hope we’ve fixed it, sure.  But there’s no guarantee that our various half-hearted attempts at social distancing will, in fact, work.  Look at what China imposed in Wuhan, then go to your local grocery store and see what’s going on.  The game isn’t over yet.  The fat lady has not yet sung.  I don’t think we’ve reached an inflection point anywhere in any US state yet (but I have not checked that). 

And the clerks at Safeway aren’t wearing masks.  So we are living by Rule #6:  Yes, the really can be that stupid.  Not the clerks.  I mean the people who run Safeway.

The CDC finally wised up.  We all need to follow the CDC advice.  The new advice, that reflects their current understanding of the facts.

Edit:  Well, I was not right.  I guess I read a description of what their advice might be.  But right now, the CDC is still kind-of, sort-of, maybe talking about someday asking (but not requiring) Americans to wear a mask in public.  I can’t even imagine what they are dithering about. But the bottom line is that they still have not modified their official guidance regarding use of masks in public places.

And here’s why they need to get on the stick.  My wife called the Safeway and talked to the manager, and he said that nobody had called for public mask use, so it’s up to each employee to do what they want with regard to mask or not.  That said, I’m sticking by my original conclusion.  We need to start thinking of getting ahead of the curve, not acting like a bunch of sheep.

 Again, do the simple arithmetic.  Fairfax has about 800,000 adults.  And as of today we’re likely to reach our 400th known can of COVID-19.  One in 2000 adults is known to have been infected.  Do you think 2000 adults shop at the Pan Am Safeway on a given day?  I’d bet so.  So, I’d say the odds are pretty good that the clerks in that store are getting exposed on a regular basis.  Day in and day out.  It’s really stupid not to provide them with some protection.  And it’s really stupid of me to shop at a store that does not provide and require at least some minimal protection for public-facing staff.

And, for damned sure, I’m not going to spend another penny on a vendor who is too lazy, or too foolish, to require all public-facing personnel to mask up.  Not if I have any alternative.   I suggest that all of you do the same, and maybe they’ll eventually figure it out.