As Restrictions Ease, Concerns About Social Distancing Rise

Matt Bigler
May 22, 2020 - 9:28 am

As more counties relax restrictions on businesses and move into phase two of reopening, some residents are concerned that folks will become too relaxed.

One East Bay woman recently had an unnerving experience at the Lucky grocery store near Oakland’s Lake Merritt on a recent Saturday morning. It started when she noticed there were no shopping carts outside. 

“I think there were no carts because there were so many people in the store,” says the Jane Doe. “I went inside and it was crowded… there was nobody making any effort at all to control how many people were in the store at the time.”

With so many people inside and disregarding social distancing rules, she says it was nearly impossible to stay at least six feet away from others and employees did little to enforce store policies.

“I was very unnerved. I came home rattled,” she says. “I shop for my husband who has emphysema, my mother who is 93. I need to go grocery shopping but I don’t want to get sick and bring that home to them.”

When a KCBS Radio reporter visited the store a week later, occupancy limits were being enforced and customers were outside waiting in a socially distanced line, which is how the company says it should be at all times.

“We follow all safety requirements for maintaining safe and personal distance,” says Victoria Castro, a spokesperson for Lucky’s parent company SaveMart. The store’s safety requirements limit shoppers to one customer for every 150 square feet. “The safety and health of our customers and our family employees is of paramount importance to us.”

Most grocery stores have similar versions of these safety protocols. But the question is how rigorously are they being enforced?

Customer Jennifer Thrower said she had a good shopping experience.

“Cashiers and the baggers are very available, helping you with the social distancing and everything.. the security guard was being very helpful, bringing out the wipes to help wipe stuff down,” she says. “I don’t have a problem at all with it.”

“Our store managers are empowered even during the most popular shopping times to exercise judgement and stop store traffic if they believe there could be any compromise to the health and safety of our customers and employees,” says Castro.

But that is not enough for Jane Doe, who says she has no plans to go back to the store and worries that her experience is part of a larger trend. 

“I’m just worried that the curve that we successfully flattened is going to peak again… we are all acting as though this crisis is over. I don’t believe that.”