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Gotta Eat! Grocery Shopping In The Midst Of Coronavirus

Leoneda Inge

As more people adhere to social distancing guidelines, there's one truly essential place where it's tougher to follow the rules: the grocery store.

The Harris Teeter grocery store on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in Durham is often pretty busy. Toilet tissue, meat, eggs and produce quickly disappear from the shelves. But the store has plexiglass cough shields up to protect workers at the cash registers from possible coronavirus contamination. And there are hand sanitizer sheets near the front door.

It's much appreciated, says shopper Daniel Lieberman.

"I'm very worried about it. I'm certainly very worried about it," said Lieberman, in the Harris Teeter parking lot after shopping. "I am trying to take as many precautions as I can and I feel like a lot of people are."

Lieberman says he and his wife are at home all day these days, so they have to cook.

"I'd rather not be coming out if I didn’t have to," said Lieberman.

Credit Leoneda Inge
Daniel Lieberman, outside a Harris Teeter in Durham. Lieberman said he takes many precautions while shopping.

But everyone has to get food and "social distancing" is hard to practice in the grocery store.

Clay de Souza of Durham was recently out shopping. He says he's out every day looking for toilet tissue and hand sanitizers.

"It's like some stores have it or they don't have it. So, it's like a hunt," said de Souza. "I have never done this before, ever in my life. I have never been in grocery stores this much as I have now. That's the only thing you can go to really."

de Souza says he gives Harris Teeter and Food Lion good marks for cleanliness. Grocery stores like Food Lion, Lowes, Publix, Whole Foods and Harris Teeter all have "cough shields" and you can see cashiers cleaning off their spaces.

Whole Foods has this statement on its website: "While it is not currently recommended by the CDC, and the guidance is to preserve these resources for the medical community and those caring for the ill, any team member who wishes to wear a mask while working may do so."

One store where there aren't cough shields is Compare Foods on University Drive in Durham. But there are blue Xs on the floor to keep shoppers six feet apart. Tyrone Bachus just bought some meat and veggies, even though he's not convinced everything is as clean and sanitized as it should be.

"We don't know that," said Bachus. "Ain't got no choice. Still got to eat!”

Credit Lowes Foods
North Carolina-based Lowes Foods says it installed plexiglass shields at registers in all of its stores.

Grocery stores like Lowes and Harris Teeter have also reduced store hours. Meanwhile, public health experts say shoppers should try to avoid stores during peak times or – if possible – do curbside pickup or have groceries delivered. And wash your hands.

Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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