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USA: Business as usual on display amid Coronavirus

4 April 2020 at 21:52 | 2335 views

By Mustapha S. Wai, Virginia, United States of America.

_“America is going to need much more than an advanced healthcare system and a ready medical force. We are going to need the right “tone at the top” and a well informed and disciplined populace — one that is willing to sacrifice some of our “good ole” freedoms in exchange for our right to live. Otherwise, I’m afraid that the “land of the free”, might soon become the “land of the dead”.”

It was a rude awakening at the Costco Wholesale store in our neighborhood. On display was a total disregard for precautionary measures by the vast majority of shoppers. After more than a week indoor observing social distancing, my wife and I decided to venture out to stock up on food and essential supplies. Our destination was our local Costco wholesale store. We live in a state with almost 900 confirmed cases of Coronavirus. Three employees of our local Walmart store have reportedly tested positive for the virus. The Walmart in question and many other stores in our area are still open for business. Many of them are running with no visible change in protocols, nor any adjustments in the attitudes of shoppers.

After religiously following the news for weeks, taking note of the rapid spread of Coronavirus around the world, including in China, Italy, and the U.S.— devastating our very own Washington and New York states — and leaving behind scores of deaths, one would expect that our way of life should have dramatically changed. But what was on display at my local Costco left me puzzled. For a minute, I wondered whether I just know too much about the Coronavirus than many of the shoppers I observed; or whether they know something that I don’t know. Majority of them demonstrated no social distancing gestures, nor did they have on any protective gears.

Counting in my head, basically one out of three employees in uniform had on a mask. Few of them had gloves on. One in about twenty shoppers had on gloves and/or masks. The biggest surprise was that several families accompanied by young children paraded the store with no protective gears. With their bare hands, they touched pretty much everything in their way. Some even leT their kids roam the aisles unsupervised. My wife and I were among the few that had on masks and gloves. In fact, one family — a middle-aged woman, accompanied by a teenage girl had to speed away staring at us with suspicion as we came down the aisle. They must have suspected us of carrying the virus because of our masks — apparently stemming from the conflicting statements out there about why we should wear masks.

As a naturally risk-averse person, coupled with my background in risk management, I have apparently been a real “pain in the rear" not only to my family, but also to others the few times Ii have been out in public during this outbreak. After a brief debate, my wife and I had agreed on protocols before leaving the house for the store. We took the disinfectant wipes dispenser with us. We wore gloves and masks and put spare gloves in our respective pockets. We wiped down all areas before touching, starting with the shopping cart – a flatbed in our case. We carried a plastic bag with us and in it we disposed of our used wipes. We tried as much as possible to stay within no more than six feet from other shoppers. My risk flag remained up the entire time we were in the store. Strolling down the aisles, one of the items on our flatbed fell to the ground. A customer service personnel nearby rushed to pick it up. Don’t touch it, I cautioned him. While he had gloves on, I have no idea how many things and surfaces he had touched.

The second incident was at checkout. To be in total control of our grocery, we had opted for a self-checkout. But because we had a flatbed, we were told that we cannot use the self-checkout. Instead, we were instructed to use a cashier-manned checkout. I did not understand the logic, but we followed the instruction. It was a bit reassuring when I saw the cashier with gloves wiping down the scanner with disinfectant wipes right before she started scanning our items. But she did not have on a mask. I placed only small items on the conveyor belt. The rest remained on the flatbed where the cashier scanned them using a handgun. While this was going on, my wife was busy wiping down the electronic payment keypad with disinfectant wipes. In the middle of the scanning, another customer service personnel rushed to our cashier and attempted to bag and put away our items on the flatbed. He had no gloves on. Right before he could reach for the first item, I told him not to touch our stuff. You don’t even have gloves on, i emphasized. By that time, I could see the face of our cashier, that of the intruding helper, and another cashier nearby all focused on me in apparent contempt. I know I’m a pain in the rear, but I don’t really care, i thought to myself. Upon arriving home, all items we brought were put through a rigorous cleaning protocol—washing with soap and water all washable containers and disinfecting the rest before we put them away. For me and my family, our way of life has changed and with it come a new kind of discipline.

Evidence suggests that our experience is not limited to our community. People in several other communities in the U.S. are yet to change their way of life even though the virus is being spread in their respective neighborhoods. America is going to need much more than an “advanced healthcare” system and a “ready medical force”. We are going to need the right “tone at the top” and a well informed and disciplined populace — one that is willing to sacrifice some of our “good ole” freedoms in exchange for our right to live. Otherwise, I’m afraid that the “land of the free”, might become the “land of the dead”.