COVID-19: Seniors-Only Shopping

If you’ve braved a trip to the grocery store lately, you’re probably aware that things have taken a turn for the chaotic. The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has inspired a wave of panic-shopping around the country. Essentials are flying off of shelves and, more troublingly, people are crowding into public spaces just when they should be practicing social distancing.

For seniors, crowded stores aren’t just a nuisance, they’re often a hazard, presenting a number of opportunities to contract and spread COVID-19.

Staying at home is only an option for so long. How can seniors make necessary purchases without facing unnecessary risks? Several grocery chains think they might have the answer.

Shopping Hours for Seniors

Chains including Albertsons, Dollar General, Target, and Whole Foods have recently updated their schedules to reserve specific shopping hours. In theory, these will provide seniors and other immunocompromised shoppers with windows of opportunity to safely stock up. Grub Street reports that at least one city (Jersey City, New Jersey) has mandated that all large grocery stores offer exclusive hours from 9AM to 11AM.


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Other chains have dismissed the idea and opted to encourage take-out ordering instead. Speaking to CNN Business, a representative for the Texas grocery chain H-E-B said, “we feel asking a group to congregate at our stores in a certain time frame is not a safe idea.”

Will it Work?

Infectious disease experts have also questioned the wisdom of seniors-only shopping hours. Alysa Krain, a geriatric medicine specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, says the idea “makes [her] nervous.” She advises stores to enforce social distancing and keep crowds to a manageable size. Massachusetts chain Stop and Shop does not currently have plans to limit crowd sizes. Stony Brook University’s Bettina Fries echoes Krain’s concerns, but generally sounds more hopeful. She believes it’s unlikely that symptomatic seniors will head to the store and risk infecting others.

Krain, Fries, and other experts suggest deliveries for seniors could provide an even safer alternative to traditional shopping hours. Stop and Shop and many of its competitors are already offering this service.

Staying Safe

Grocery chains intend to offer seniors-only hours indefinitely. Seniors should also take health and safety precautions for the foreseeable future. Whether you’re out and about or stuck at home, hand washing and good respiratory hygiene are essential.

Read our summary of the World Health Organization’s guidelines for more information.