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How to Keep an Older Loved One Supplied with Necessities during the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Julie Hayes | 05/18/2020

A woman shopping for groceries with a protective mask and gloves

With staying at home and practicing social distancing being recommended as two of the most important methods of “flattening the curve” and keeping safe during the current COVID-19 pandemic, most of us have had to rethink the ways we go about our day-to-day lives. Even basic trips to the convenience store or supermarket involve new levels of preparation and caution than before. This can be an additional challenge for those who have to think about providing for a vulnerable loved one, whether they are caregivers or just taking on a bigger role to assist their loved one and keep them safe at this time. Though some of us may have experience in handling shopping for a loved one, we may be stressed about all the risks of doing the same during a pandemic. Others of us, such as those whose loved ones have only recently been diagnosed and still keep to their normal shopping routines, may be concerned about a loved one insisting on going out and getting groceries themselves, as they’re accustomed to doing. 

No matter what changes in our lives, we all still need food and household items. But how can we access these necessities safely, with the least risk to ourselves and others? How can we best keep our vulnerable loved ones protected while still keeping them well-stocked?

Buying groceries and household items

  • Shopping online: Many groceries and supermarkets offer services where we can order our food and essential items online and have them delivered for curbside pickup or directly to our home. There are also apps like Instacart and Freshdirect which offer shopping and delivery services from local retailers, such as grocery stores and pharmacies. Most of these services offer methods of no-contact delivery if we request it, and if a loved one does not use the internet, or feel comfortable navigating these services on their own, we can take care of ordering to their address for them.

    However, we should keep in mind that there is a high demand for these services at this time, and we may not be able to secure same-day delivery. We may need to order several days ahead of when our loved one requires groceries to make sure they arrive on time. It can also help to preplan weekly meals with a loved one to make sure they have everything they need when they need it. Many of these services also allow for us to add or remove items to a placed order up until a few hours before delivery.
  • Shopping safely in-store: If demand for online services is too high to get us urgent items when they are needed, we may have to go stores in-person. This should be done while taking appropriate precautions. Many stores have guidelines they ask customers to follow, such as keeping distance while in line or not touching items we aren’t committed to purchasing. Most stores are also limiting the number of customers allowed in the store at one time. If the store we are visiting has these rules, it is important to follow them.

    To keep safe, we should also:
    • Wear a face covering
    • Wipe down the handle of the shopping cart with disinfectant wipes before and after use.
    • Pay with a credit or debit card. This will help us avoid additional physical contact with the cashier that would be needed to exchange bills and coins.
    • Wear gloves. We should be sure not to touch our face or items like our phone while wearing these gloves to avoid cross-contamination. When we are finished with the gloves, they should be removed as safely as possible. The Cleveland Clinic recommends the method shown in this video to remove gloves without risking contamination. If the gloves are disposable, we should throw them away after use. If they are cloth, we should wash them before reusing.
    • Give other shoppers space. Come back to aisles when there are fewer people there.
    • Go to the stores outside of peak hours, when possible.

      When bringing groceries home, we should avoid setting the bags down on surfaces where we will later be preparing or eating food. Hands should be washed before and after unloading for at least 20 seconds. According to the Food and Drug Administration, there is no current evidence to support the virus being transmitted through food packaging, but wiping down packaging and containers with disinfecting products certainly won’t hurt if it gives us peace of mind. 
  • Senior hours: If it is possible, we should avoid having a loved one go out to the store themselves. If we can’t go to the store for a loved one, we should find out if there is someone else who can go in our place.

    If it is absolutely necessary for an older loved one to go to the store themselves, we should remind them of the above precautions. They should also be encouraged to go to a store within designated senior hours to limit their exposure to peak hour shoppers and to ensure they have better access to items before stocks are depleted.
  • Dealing with low stock: Certain items, both in terms of food and household products, have been in high demand during this time. When planning meals with a loved one, we might need to consider alternatives should the ingredients we want be unavailable. 

    If a store is out of a household item we’re looking for, we might be able to look for it online. However, we should be aware that many people are selling in-demand items at unnecessarily high prices. Many online platforms are cracking down on this behavior, but we should still be cautious.

    If an item is particularly hard to find, we can make it a team effort and ask people we know to purchase the item if it happens to be in stock when they’re shopping. They can then leave the item at a loved one’s door for them to pick up.

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