Grocery Shopping Feels Unsafe as Delta Variant Surges in Mississippi

grocery store

With Hurricane Ida on the way, I did a last-minute check of my supplies late Friday night. I thought I was set but found that I was unexpectedly low on a few key items. That's what I get for waiting until the first real storm to prepare, I suppose. I would find myself braving the mad rush of every one else who waited until the last minute on Saturday morning. I headed out about 7:30 am, a time when things are usually deserted on a Saturday. No such luck on this Saturday, though. It was clear that everybody else was doing the same thing. Traffic was at least as bad as a typical rush hour, and store parking lots were already packed.

After failing to find all of what I was looking for at a couple stores, I ended up at a small grocery store close to my home. This store is very convenient but has limited selection and sky-high prices. As much as I'd like to shop there more regularly, I simply cannot afford to do so. Limited selection aside, I often find unusual items there that the one large grocery store (yes, we only have one large grocery store in a town of nearly 50,000 people) does not carry. And I was in luck because I eventually found everything I needed in this store.

As small as it is, the aisles are incredibly narrow. No degree of social distancing is possible in this store. Early in the pandemic, many people would wait until someone had cleared the aisle before entering but that was not practical with this many people. I had to wait in a long check-out line for some time, and this gave me ample opportunity to observe my surroundings. I would estimate that roughly 70% of the shoppers were wearing face masks. Many were too poor-fitting to offer any benefit, but there was a wide range that included the medical grade masks too. Those who were not wearing masks stood out, but there were plenty of them. Many entire families were maskless. I suppose they simply don't give a damn about the rest of us. I found myself thinking that this was no surprise and that it was kind of nice to have such a salient visual cue that they were those sort of people.

I was disappointed that the store was making no effort to even encourage mask-wearing given the dire situation Mississippi is facing with our hospitals being overwhelmed. It seems clear that the current spike is of our own making, and people have decided that some minor discomfort on their part to prevent others from dying is not worth it. All of the store employees I saw were wearing masks, but there were a few who still hadn't figured out how to have the mask cover their nose. Barring some sort of facial deformity which was not evident, it seems like this might be an effective rapid IQ test.

In any event, I made it home with what I needed. I will readily acknowledge that wearing face masks sucks. In the unbearable Mississippi weather that lasts most of the year, they are hot, sweaty, and leave a nasty-looking rash on my face every time I wear one for more than an hour. And yet, I'll keep wearing them because public health matters. It seems like a strange thing that I might care more about others' lives than they do about their own and certainly about mine, but that appears to be the situation in which we find ourselves.

As I pulled out of my parking spot, I had a strange thought. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of the people in that store had to be evangelical fundamentalist Christians, mostly Southern Baptists. A significant number of them would almost certainly claim to oppose abortion because they "value human life." And yet, their behavior in the store indicates otherwise. I know this isn't a new insight, but that is what I found myself thinking about on the way home.