COVID-19 leads to more grocery deliveries, raises questions about safe shopping

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s one of the few places that has to stay open. With restaurants mandated to close their dine-in service, grocery stores across the state are packed.

“It’s more crowded than I’ve ever seen it,” Instacart worker Sarah told KXAN.

She described the first hour of her job every day as “chaos.” She braves the crowds to shop for others who order their groceries over the app.

“A lot of that is just stressful having to navigate around all those people,” she said, “but we are making it.”

Instacart said over the weekend they saw the highest customer demand in the delivery company’s history in terms of groceries sold.

H-E-B said they’re seeing an increase in deliveries and curbside pick-up orders, as well. They’ve even seen delays up to several days for deliveries.

“We are doing our best to hire more partners to get those orders fulfilled, open more time slots for curbside, and try to get them those groceries quicker,” H-E-B Public Affairs Manager Felicia Pena said.

While some grocery chains have implemented designated hours to accommodate senior shoppers, H-E-B is going a different route.

On Friday, they partnered with delivery app Favor to launch a delivery program exclusively for senior citizens.

Customers can call their Senior Support phone line from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., seven days a week, at (833) 397-0080. They can also place their orders on Favor’s website or app.

Peña said they felt it was a “safer” option.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t encouraging them to leave their homes if they didn’t have to,” she said.

Safe shopping?

KXAN has received several tips over the past weeks from people concerned about how safe it is to have someone else grabbing your groceries.

Sarah said she had the same concerns. She does her best to use wipes and hand sanitizer, but thinks more could be done by the delivery companies.

“I’m touching everything,” she said. “I haven’t seen much of a change. They haven’t provided us with gloves or anything.”

Instacart said they are “adhering to recommendations from public health officials,” and they’ve added a Leave At My Door delivery option to prevent person-to-person contact.

They said customers chose that option on 25% of their orders last week.

Meanwhile, H-E-B is dropping deliveries at the door for all their orders.

“We also make sure everyone is completely sanitary, they are using hand sanitizers, we also have sneeze guards up,” Peña said, “just taking those extra measures to make sure that when we get that food to the customer, we have done our best to maintain sanitary expectations on our part.”

However, when it comes to third-parties, it’s really up to the service or the delivery person themselves.

“I worry about it, ” Sarah said. “I take my temperature every morning to make sure I don’t go into work sick.”

She said most customers have been gracious, so knowing she’s helping them makes all the difference.

“The fact that we can’t work from home is a little scary, but also I’m happy to make that sacrifice if it helps other people,” she said. “That’s felt important. I think that’s what’s keeping us all going.”

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