Nothing To See Here, Just Commentary

The absurdity of some people is astonishing. Earlier in the day, I entered a popular non-essential store. Not a single person wore facial protection. Most didn’t pretend to observe safe distancing. My post isn’t about that, though. At best, such stores have shown a compliance rate of 1 in 5.

It’s about the huge store packed with people. Outside, a disinterested man stood stoically and tapped his tablet as each person entered and exited. The stacks of carts were marked “Disinfected,” even though I could see that they hadn’t been. Human boredom and lack of interest had caught up with the process. It’s only natural. The guy collecting empty carts was doing so without any PPE, and pushing the dirty carts into the holding area. I watched as he started a new line and pushed it all the way through to where the customers could grab them. The zombie hitting his tablet observed him doing it, but said nothing. Customers would assume that the signs saying “Disinfected” were in fact clean. They weren’t. I said nothing because this store does not welcome commentary.

Inside, signs were everywhere, warning of the necessity of maintaining social distancing and practicing safety first. About 1 in 4 or 5 wore facial protection, including employees. A customer stood 2 feet away from the deli attendant, leaning over to within a foot. Neither flinched as they engaged in an animated conversation. Along the back, where the slaughtered animals lay packed in small packages, a woman with a small girl in her cart passed, coughing openly and without a facial covering – and without bothering to cover her mouth.

At one of the registers, the clerk wore gloves. She used the same pair of gloves across customers, touching their groceries, coupons handed to her, as well as reaching over to handle their cards and press buttons on the self-pay kiosk at the station. She handled cash, handing it across without sanitizing her hands. The customers were mostly doing the same.

Waiting for my wife, I watched the behavior of both employees and customers. Other than the number of signs, it was no stretch to imagine we were back to normal. I could make a list of no-nos. You get the idea, though.

Waiting in line, I noted the blue tape on the floors, spaced 4 feet apart. (Not 6) Of the customers ahead of us, 1 wore a mask. None of the others did. I watched our cashier handle things handed to her by the the customer. The cashier handed one back and then put her fingers inside her mask and pulled it down, then run the back of her left arm across her face and nose. She reached back up and pulled the mask up as the customer handed her more items. A manager was called as the light flashed above. The cashier pulled her mask down again, hooking her fingers inside her mask. She wiped her hand across her face again. The manager pulled her mask down and handled the same items handed over by the customer. She leaned in and repeated herself a few times. Her face was 2 feet from the customer and even closer to the cashier, whose mask was down. They finally figured out the coupons and how to ring up the items separately. She pulled her mask back up and left.

I began to load my things on the conveyor. The cashier didn’t throw a separator on the belt. I moved around within the 4 foot sections of tape. “Sir, can you move back?” the cashier hissed at me. “Yes, of course,” I replied as I retrieved the separator and moved back around, shaking my head at the stupidity of her focus.

In the next line back, a woman with a small boy was simultaneously hollered at by the cashier. I had seen them twice earlier in the store. At one point, the woman carefully reminded the boy to keep his distance to avoid touching things.

The people currently at the cashier weren’t wearing facial protection. The cashier pulled her mask down by putting her gloved fingers inside her mask and hollered, “Move back!” The woman apologized. The man behind her, fed up with the charade the store offered, cursed and said, “Just check the f%%% out already. No one is covering their face and you’re sticking your fingers inside your mask and using the same gloves on everyone, so what exactly are you doing correctly?” Stunned, that cashier went back to work. The woman with the small boy, although embarrassed, nodded in appreciation to the man. Note: when the man reached the register where the other cashier had hollered, he politely asked her to use sanitizer on her gloves before handling his groceries. She reluctantly complied.

My cashier kept looking over her shoulder, trying to get a good look at the man who had admonished the other cashier, even as she checked out my items. I had no doubt she was going to say something mean to him. I made eye contact with her to let her know it would be wise for her to say nothing. Had she done so, I was going to say something that would have really angered her. While she checked us out, I observed her reach inside her mask twice and scratch her face. I knew she had barked at me because she was unhappy that someone required her to wear a mask. It’s easy to bark at customers. It’s a mistake to bark at those of us who’ve made the extra effort.

The entire store is a testament to the folly of viral safety. Though there practices and protocols in place, the people who are supposed to enforce them don’t. I observed employees without masks, employees failing to wipe carts (as promised), stick their fingers in their masks, constantly pull them down, stand much to close to both one another and customers, wear gloves across multiple people, fail to use sanitizer on hands/gloves, and handle items across the customer-employee barrier.

Two weeks ago, I (correctly) predicted there would be an increasing rush to back away from isolation protocols.

I’ve witnessed the push grow. Stores here in Arkansas are great places to observe customers and see whether they think the protective measures should be followed. Lowes, Home Depot, furniture stores, Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and many grocery stores have driven home the observation that our compliance rate was always low.

I’m out in the world everyday and have been since the virus started. My job requires me to be out in it.

Even before the virus, I had many problems with people in my profession failing to practice basic contact precautions. Even with the virus, I’ve continued to witness what can only be called ongoing stupidity.

I’m not making a case for whether our protocols are warranted, or even that I know the answers. I’ve many instances of perplexity in confusion as I watched employers and public institutions wing it as the virus made its demands.

I am saying, though, that our single biggest problem is that we’re more committed to the idea of safety theater than actual safely. Human sloppiness will always derail our efforts to protect the public safety.

It’s always been that way. And always will.

Proper safety costs money. It costs effort. And most of all, it requires consistency.

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