COVID-19 has fundamentally transformed daily life in ways that might stick with us long after the crisis is over. Offices are closed, upwards of 10 million people have lost their jobs, and hospitals are overwhelmed. Restaurants are closed, and even high-end dining establishments have been forced to introduce takeout, and even that might not be enough to help them weather the storm. Grocery stores and markets have remained open (eating is, after all pretty essential), but not without their own precautions.
But with the COVID-19 crisis poised to enter its most dangerous and deadly stretch to date, the Trump administration is advising against making any trips to even the most essential places for the time being. Specifically, Deborah Birx, the White House’s Coronavirus response coordinator, warned Americans to do everything they can to stay put and stay inside (well, short of issuing an actual nationwide shelter in place order).
“The next two weeks are extraordinarily important,” Birx said in an April 4 press conference. “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe.”
With the need to stay home already incredibly serious, there’s certainly something to be said for minimizing contact with the outside word to the extent that is realistically possible for non-essential workers. But with the need to eat and get medications remaining pretty inflexible even amid a pandemic, what should you do?
The primary thing to do is not panic. Nobody’s disputing the fact that grocery stores remain essential and should stay open, and shortages aren’t imminent. If anything, the temporary closure of restaurants means we have an excess of certain food products that need some help getting to the right place.
The next most important thing to do is plan ahead. Ideally, you’ve already been shopping with a clear list and a strategy in mind to minimize the amount of time you spend in the supermarket. In these times, take that up a notch by building a weekly meal plan ahead of time around common ingredients like proteins or starches so you can stretch one shop into a greater number of days. In addition to stocking up on certain staples, this should make it easier to go for about 10 days or more between shops while keeping you from simply eating the same thing over and over again.
Beyond shopping smarter with meals in mind, take a look in your cabinets. There’s a decent chance you have a forgotten can or two of non-perishables that’ve just been waiting for a moment like this. To keep things fresh (no pun intended), try challenging yourself to cook something based around what you already have but wouldn’t usually use. Think of it as a sort of at-home version of Iron Chef that can expand your cooking horizons.
Additionally, there are other methods for getting your groceries while staying out of the store, thereby making it easier for everyone else to maintain their social distance. If you have the ability to drive to the store, plenty of grocery chains do curbside pickup. Though they bring with them their own cost increases and ethical concerns (especially at a time when workers are striking for increased pay and protections), services like Fresh Direct and InstaCart (as well as some grocery stores) can drop off what you need directly. Do with that info what you will.
So, yes: it can feel worrying to know that even grocery stores should be avoided right now, but there are definitely ways to get by without too many additional disruptions or restrictions. The more prudent we all are now in not shopping unnecessarily, the more likely we are to experience a return to a normal life when this all calms down. And if all else fails, order delivery.