Stay at home and get food delivered, or go out so others can stay in?
April 9, 2020 5:34 PM   Subscribe

This discussion raises a question for me that I hope someone can clarify:

I am currently in good health, do not have any disabilities, and am not in any high-risk group (except for being male). I'm in New Jersey, which is a hotspot. I have been very good about staying at home. But I have heard two conflicting bits of advice when it comes to shopping.

1. People who are low-risk and physically able to should do their own shopping so that delivery services have slots available for people who are high risk or have disabilities. (This is very evident in the linked AskMe.)

2. People who are able to use grocery delivery services should use them, because poorer or older people without access to internet or credit cards have no choice but to go out to shop, and we should stay home for their sake.

It seems to me that 1 outweighs 2. Am I mistaken? I am privileged in that I'm currently well-stocked and have some savings, but I'll be running out of hand soap soon enough, and would like to do what's best for my community. (I have a DIY mask and am good about washing my hands before leaving the house and after getting home.)
posted by ejs to Shopping (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are slots generally available within a few days or is it a two week wait to get a slot? I have no particular opinion about it in the first case but in the second I tend strongly to 1.
posted by jeather at 5:41 PM on April 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure there's a right answer here, especially not one final right answer as conditions vary so wildly from hour to hour at this point. I'm going with option 1 at the moment because there's no delivery slots, but I think the population that both urgently needs delivery and can afford to use delivery is not the entire population that could benefit from delivery, you know what I mean? It's more complicated than that.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:51 PM on April 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Strong vote for #1. For people with disabilities, the physical act of going grocery shopping can be very taxing, if not impossible. Also, where I live, the delivery slots are almost impossible to find. If you take a delivery slot, you are completely blocking someone else. If you go to the store, you are making it very slightly more crowded. Finally, if you order on-line, someone else will be in the store picking your items so I don't think the store will be less crowded and that someone else is more likely to be carrier than you are.
posted by metahawk at 5:52 PM on April 9, 2020 [20 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with metahawk about the relative risk vs benefit--going in the store may make it slightly more dangerous for others, but taking a delivery slot means they can't get food at all.

Also, if you are middle class you are unlikely to be shopping at the same stores as the poorest in your community. If you're particularly worried about that, you could choose to frequent the more expensive grocery stores near you.
posted by brook horse at 6:00 PM on April 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

I thought that same thing after reading that post, and here's where I'm settling: I did place a delivery order for some non-perishables at a local grocery store that isn't super popular that had available spots a few days out (it hasn't delivered yet so I can't comment on the experience). I'll also be going to soon my local store to get produce and other perishables. I'm not ordering from any services that have long waits or going to the most popular grocery store in town (apparently Trader Joe's?!). I'm also trying to figure out if I can mail order any of those non-perishables. For example, hand soap can be purchased online. You could also get hand soap at a local hardware store if that's truly all you really need right and want to save grocery store stuff for people only going to the grocery store.

I was at a Whole Foods last weekend and the cashier told me they've been busier in the morning, likely because people think stores stock overnight. But he told me they stock all day. In any case, since afternoons are quieter, that's when I plan to go. Maybe later in the evenings, too.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:03 PM on April 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: After virtually watching a friend who is seriously immuno compromised getting up at midnight to try for hours to secure delivery spots a week out, I'd say go to the store if you're able.
posted by anastasiav at 6:06 PM on April 9, 2020 [27 favorites]

I'm not sure there's a clear answer. By going shopping yourself, you are adding yourself as another potential vector for the virus (you're probably going more than once, right?) Instacart-shoppers service multiple customers and multiple orders, so there are fewer total vectors, assuming delivery is contact-free.

You could order your handsoap online via Amazon or, assuming that the fulfillment center and delivery increases viral transmission less than your store visit, and you can wait a week or more.

Wuhan eventually had to move to food bundles to reduce human traffic.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:13 PM on April 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you decide to go out for groceries, why not find out who in your neighborhood can't go out for groceries and offer to shop for them too?
posted by Sublimity at 6:14 PM on April 9, 2020 [8 favorites]

It's nearly impossible to get delivery slots in NYC. I couldn't take one up myself when I am perfectly capable of walking.
posted by praemunire at 6:15 PM on April 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

I made our first order from a restaurant that had pivoted to (limited) grocery delivery. Fewer people are doing this, so they were pretty wide open in terms of availability, and we didn't have to add to the grocery store crowd or take up limited Instacart slots.

Next time, I will probably go with a local farm doing CSA boxes.
posted by moira at 6:18 PM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Adding that the restaurant we purchased from had some basics like soap.
posted by moira at 6:21 PM on April 9, 2020

I am sticking with option 1, going to the store here in NYC. One person in our building has the virus and has a bear of a time getting delivery spots. And we have a person on the top floor who had polio as a kid and needs delivery. The person on the top floor has declined my offers to pick up literally anything but the person with the virus has accepted my going out to pick up pedialyte powder and Gatorade, as well as snacks. The doctor in the building knows they can ask us for anything but is too busy to even consider they might need something. Thankfully they have a spouse who is working from home.

My next advice is to find a recipe for oral hydrating solution (table salt and sugar in specific measurements) so that if you get the virus you can stay hydrated if Gatorade and pedialyte are not accessible to you.

And I’m a big agree on checking to see if there’s anything you can pick up for a neighbor or friend. You can write a note on printer paper with your phone number and email, and slide it under a door if you don’t have phone numbers but have even a nodding acquaintance with a neighbor.

We are limiting our grocery trips to one per week and we already had a healthy selection of staples in the kitchen, plus a lot of jams and pickled vegetables. And yet I still fantasize about foods that aren’t in the house.
posted by bilabial at 6:40 PM on April 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

If there were open delivery slots, #2 would be worth considering... but there aren't. Go yourself, and leave the slot open for someone who needs it more. That's what I'm doing.

As far as being in the store goes, you should also try to limit the potential you pose as a source of risk to others -- wash hands, use cart sanitizing wipes, wear a (non-medical-grade) mask. Make a list and put it in order by the order the items show up in the store to minimize your time inside. While making your list, try to plan so you're shopping to stay home longer before your next necessary run. I'm guessing NJ stores have an hour in the mornings for the elderly and immunosuppressed, so avoid those times. Etc.
posted by pie ninja at 6:59 PM on April 9, 2020

Where I live, you’re only allowed to get home delivered groceries (from the major supermarkets) if you’re considered at risk - which you have to prove. This means every delivery slot goes to someone who needs it.
posted by Jubey at 7:16 PM on April 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm also in New Jersey and agree on option 1. Most of the grocery stores by me (Hudson/Bergen county) seem to have instituted early hours for senior citizens only on certain days, and are limiting the number of people in the store at a time by only letting new customers as others exit, and have put up plexiglass shields at the registers. And Governor Murphy just issued an order today that NJ supermarkets and stores must limit customers to 50% capacity and that customers need to wear masks, so any store that wasn't already putting someone on door-duty will be doing it going forward.
posted by oh yeah! at 7:45 PM on April 9, 2020

Option 1, but I imagine it depends on where you live. I live in Los Angeles, right across the street from a grocery store, and a block or two from at least a couple of others. Unless I have reason to believe I've been exposed to the coronavirus or am actively ill, there's no way I'm taking up a delivery slot that someone else certainly needs more than me, not so long as I can mask up and glove up and walk my ass across the street. I'm aware though that the equation could be different in other areas, particularly where access to a grocery store is an issue.

The only grocery delivery I'm getting is my meal subscription kit. (Which, if you can afford it, can take some pressure off your weekly or biweekly grocery visits, if those have become as stressful for you as they have for me [my ability to menu plan has taken a nose dive], and which don't have the issue of taking up any slots that others might need.)
posted by yasaman at 8:12 PM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

My parents are both high-risk, I am low-risk. I bought their groceries along with mine online, had them delivered to my apartment (by Amazon Prime/Whole Foods) yesterday, and I dropped them off at their house last night. It worked out really well. My mom requested that I get delivery rather than going to the store in person, which was the deciding factor for me. They're self-isolating and this way they not only don't go to the store, but their one remaining likely disease vector (me) has minimal contact with the outside world as well. I dealt with the delivery slot difficulties and paid for the grocery order myself, they didn't have to worry about it.

Are you close to any higher risk people whose grocery shopping you could batch with yours? If so, they might have a request similar to my mom's, or maybe they're in more urgent need of the food and would prefer for you to just run to the store. Either way, helping a specific high-risk person might be an easier way to decide on the ethics.
posted by rue72 at 8:20 PM on April 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

#1, absolutely. You’ve already marked best answers but as someone who might have had covid but was still capable of going out but couldn’t in good conscious do so, but also couldn’t get groceries delivered at all because there were no slots, you need to be the one getting groceries because there simply are people who cannot. There are not enough delivery slots to go around. Some people will need to go out, full stop. If you can do it with minimal risk to yourself and the population, then that should be you. Point #2 is only valid if there is a surplus of delivery slots, which there is not. Thank you for asking this question!!
posted by cgg at 8:32 PM on April 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

Option 3 is to see what local businesses have pivoted to groceries in one form or another. Local produce and restaurant wholesalers in my city are doing online ordering and curbside pickup or their own delivery for pretty much everything - coffee, fruit/veg, dairy/eggs, meat, even beer & wine.
posted by headnsouth at 8:39 PM on April 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

I live with an immuno comprimised 78 year old man, friends have brought me food, and I have gotten things delivered, and gone for milk and juice. I have no idea if I am doing anything right.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:06 PM on April 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think it also depends on other criteria. I have been weighing up my options for when my supplies eventually run out (I suspect that toilet paper will be the limiting factor).

I live alone and have been socially isolating with, like, 99% effectiveness for weeks and weeks (my whole country is under lockdown). So my reasoning is: I am unlikely to be infected now, so I'm unlikely to infect anyone if I go to the shop. If I get infected at the shop, I'll be unlikely to infect anyone afterwards. So for me #1 is the clear choice. I'm planning to go to my nearest (medium-sized) shop rather than the larger supermarket which is slightly further away, wear a mask, and be in and out of there like a ninja.

I might be making a different decision if there were a higher likelihood that I was recently exposed or that I could expose someone in the near future.

If I did order, I would first look at my local small businesses who are delivering vegetables and other groceries, since they are less well-known (and thus probably less oversubscribed) and also need the money a lot more to survive.
posted by confluency at 2:13 AM on April 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

We have a small, neighborhood market that seems safer than a full-size supermarket. It's a tricky call though because some smaller stores have narrow aisles and maybe less elaborate precautions. My wife had to go to a CVS pharmacy, and the pharmacist described the store as a cess pit (from a microbiological perspective). Not the best place to go for milk.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:27 AM on April 10, 2020

I’ve been thinking about this too and here’s where I’ve landed.

Best, if you have access to it, is ordering from a supplier that used to service restaurants and is now direct-to-consumer. They don’t seem overwhelmed, they need the revenue to stay afloat, and they tend to do bulk/large quantities, which means a smaller number of deliveries is necessary overall per household, minimizing the total amount of time in which *anyone* is exposed. (I think mathematically there is less exposure for, like, one guy to be out there all day making large deliveries, versus dozens/hundreds of people each out once a week with their own little cart.)

Second best is shipping from online suppliers. They don’t seem overwhelmed and again, the total amount of exposure is lower.

Third best is you out yourself for things you can’t get through #1 and #2, for the reasons other people have said. And if you can pick up stuff for others, all the better. But this isn’t super-efficient in terms of minimizing the exposure of the population as a whole, and that’s my argument against it. Like, if everyone had to do it, that would not be ideal.

The two worst options are 4) you competing for scarce delivery slots against people who need them more, and 5) you ordering delivery of prepared food, like pizza or whatever. I have friends who have been 100% relying on restaurant delivery and it’s taken me a while to figure out why that feels so wrong to me. (Partly because there *is* an upside: restaurants need our money to stay afloat.) And I think it’s just, again, the math of overall exposure. One pizza = one delivery and will feed you for a day. Groceries = one delivery and will feed you for a week or more. So overall, restaurant meal delivery just isn’t efficient in terms of minimizing overall exposure.

I also want to echo PinkMoose. There is no roadmap for how to do this right: we’re all just doing the best we can. Good for you for asking this question :)
posted by Susan PG at 9:16 AM on April 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh and I also agree with people saying if you can afford to spend more money, you probably should. I *think* that ordering fancy cheeses online and stuff like that should help relieve the pressure on your local grocer. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself :/
posted by Susan PG at 9:26 AM on April 10, 2020

Yes also agreeing to go yourself as I too have immunocompromised friends getting up at midnight to jockey for a deliver spot.
posted by greta simone at 9:43 AM on April 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think you just have to pick something, and (assuming it is in compliance with your local laws and rules) don't tie yourself up in knots over it because nothing is zero-risk to everyone. I've been going out once every two weeks for provisions, because I have a car and I can buy two weeks' worth of stuff at once, and then I figure I have a whole self-isolation period in between times when I'm exposing the world to myself and my theoretical germs. It's hard to keep up with the rules, though - starting on Monday, we'll be required to wear face coverings to enter stores. We ordered some tie-on masks, but they won't come for awhile, and this weekend is the fortnightly stock-up, so I'll probably have my Buff jammed over my face and do a lot of fidgeting with it to keep my glasses from being constantly fogged. Everything sucks and there's no good option.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 11:12 AM on April 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thank you for asking this question, OP, because I’ve been wrestling with this exact same issue myself. I’ve been letting a neighbor know when I go to the grocery store because she has a five-year-old disabled child with heart problems. She was able to get a delivery slot and is ordering a few things for me in return. She offered; I did not request. I will probably continue to go to the store myself mostly. Many thanks to all who responded because you’re helping many people who did not ask but still wondered.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:49 PM on April 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It’s not just disabled people. I’m a widowed parent with a three year old. I don’t have anybody else at home to watch him. I have to either bring him with me or get delivery. I’ve been staying up until midnight to get a spot.
posted by ficbot at 2:37 PM on April 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

It seems to me that the more people use delivery services, the more deliverers will be hired. A grocery store, faced with the possibility of losing a sale to a competitor because a customer can't pick up her purchase, will work hard to find a way to solve that problem. This is a good thing - especially when millions of people suddenly find themselves unemployed. I'm sure some of those suddenly unemployed would be quite happy to be working as grocery deliverers. Please tip them well :) .

In addition, as greater numbers of customers have their groceries delivered, there will be increasing opportunities for efficiency. You may not know that the immunocompromised neighbor a few doors down also needs a grocery delivery but the delivery service knows and may be able to combine a delivery to him with the delivery that you already scheduled. The more people opt for deliveries, the more often this kind of thing can happen.
posted by metadave at 9:41 PM on April 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Where I live (London, UK) is finally starting to have slots available - for example Sainsbury's have slots available for almost all of next Thursday. I have been going to the local supermarket, by foot, and have been trying not to order anything non-essential online, but am now pivoting to online supermarket orders for two reasons:
- People in shops here have no clue. No. Clue. There are defined marked lines for waiting to get in to the shop, defined marked lines to wait for check out, and yet in the aisles people still stand in they way, still brush past way too close (like, touching my sleeve), just have no idea of personal space. I am way more likely to get something going to the store than ordering in
- Due to the fact I am walking to the store and back, I end up making a trip twice a week as I can only carry so much, and our household is two adults and a very hungry teenager. I bake bread and make a lot of stuff, but still we seem to run out of food. If I order online I can get at least a week's worth of groceries.
It depends on the situation where you live, but I feel that if you can get groceries delivered without taking spots for more vulnerable groups, you are probably doing less to risk transmission.
Restaurant orders - having seen the mass groups of delivery guys hanging out together at places on our high street, no way I am encouraging those vectors of disease.
posted by Megami at 6:56 AM on April 11, 2020

My chamber of commerce lets you buy a donation towards local restaurants delivering to local hospital/police/firehouses as an alternate way to support restaurants without ordering out yourself.
posted by typecloud at 10:50 AM on April 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

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