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As more of them die, grocery workers increasingly fear showing up at work (washingtonpost.com)
89 points by turtlegrids 80 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 141 comments

This is going to get worse, and for other professions not generally getting news coverage.

A close relative of mine for the USPS. Mail volume has dropped dramatically, yet they are desperate for employees to work overtime.

It's because so many are using their vacation/sick time or otherwise not coming in, and I don't blame them. Some are going through cancer treatment, have diabetes, or other complications which put them at risk.

Some in the distribution center have contracted COVID-19, and at least one (but maybe more) has already died.

There are a lot of people endangering their life coming in to work, and not just grocery stores and hospitals.

> This is going to get worse, and for other professions not generally getting news coverage.

Flight attendants. Airline baggage handlers. Hotel desk clerks. Hotel maintenance workers. Bus drivers. For that matter, truck drivers. I'm sure there are others.

Other than grocery store workers, truck drivers might be the one that scares me the most. If the trucks stop, this is going to get really ugly.

Meat packing has already stopped. Feel free to get scared.


Some meatpacking has stopped. How much, though?

The one Smithfield facility mentioned in that article represents 4-5% of US production. The governor has asked it to close for 14 days. That's not the only meat packing/food supply chain breakdown. Here's another article mentioning a major Tyson meat processing plant shutdown. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/0...

So we're down maybe 10 or 20% of US meatpacking capacity? That's... not good. (Depends on how much spare capacity there is in the system, of course.)

(The 10-20% is a guess, based on one large plant and some other plants, without hard data. If anyone has real data, step right up.)

I was in Richmond, Virginia 10 days ago, and people were saying there was no meat in grocery stores, so they went to Texas Roadhouse in order to be able to eat non-vegitarian, because Texas Roadhouse still had steaks.

I work on a team that's mostly offshore in India. One of them remarked that they went to multiple stores and couldn't find any vegetables. Like many Indians, my coworker is a vegetarian. That's just an anecdote, but I worry things are going to get bad there.

There's locust swarms in Africa, and it's potentially heading towards China. I expect there to be widespread food shortages in the coming weeks/months. I'm not sure about how life will be here in the US. We're rich, we're a net food exporter, etc. as long as the processing and other supply chain parts keep mostly working I think we'll be okay-ish. You might not get the exact product you want, but you probably won't face starvation. But in many poor countries in Africa and Asia, I think it's about to get really, really bad.



> Mail volume has dropped dramatically, yet they are desperate for employees to work overtime.

I thought mail volume was dramatically up because everyone’s ordering online?

I talked to the franchise owner of a UPS store outside of Boston, and he reported a 50% dropoff in business, as well as a shift in the types of orders for people working from home as well as people shipping things like toilet paper.

The big issue for the post office is the amount commercial mail has fallen off a cliff and will likely continue to drop. Anecdotally, we have seen very little junk mail in the past month other than grocery fliers. I predict serial publications like regional magazines will fail, too -- running a magazine was already tough, but now it's even worse now that many advertisers have gone out of business or are cutting back on marketing costs. If they don't have enough subscribers to keep the presses running, it's game over.

Interesting yet in retrospect not too surprising given that even Amazon is bottlenecking - even with increased demand in general that they could have issues keeping demand up.

Anecdotally, I've seen much less junk mail, which happens to be a significant portion of the mail delivered to our house.

Does that get sent by the mail system? At least here it's mostly minimum wage folks employed by marketing companies (not the postal service) going door to door to put leaflets in.

The postal service might add a flyer to your actual mail delivery, but only if they're delivering to your address anyway.

It is not legal, in the US, for anyone except the USPS to put anything into your mailbox.

That's crazy. You can't hand-post your neighbours invitations to a party, for example?

Not legally, though it sounds like if you put postage on it, it would be: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1725

What about FedEx, UPS, and DHL?

USPS only.

A lot goes through the mail system.

The Data and Marketing Association says American businesses sent 149 billion pieces of direct mail and nearly 10 billion catalogues in 2016.


This is just a counter-anecdote, but for every flyer on the door I get (once or twice a week), I get scores of pieces of junk mail. I assume you don't own a home, because that alone is good for 10 a week.

99% of my junk mail is sent via USPS. Junk mail actually gets a better rate than regular 1st class mail. It's something like 20 cents for marketing mail vs 50 cents for a piece of regular mail. In exchange I think the marketer has to do some presorting of their own, and they lose the ability to do things like forwarding or return to sender.

USPS actually has a monopoly on mailboxes. It's illegal for FedEx or anyone else to put a letter/package in your mailbox, although I don't know how much that's enforced.

I live in an apartment complex, and my mailbox doesn't have a slot in it.

All of the junk mail I've received has come via the USPS, however since this all started happening I have received almost none.

The drop-off of junk mail delivery has been both welcome, and a sign of troubles for the USPS.

Yes, most of it is delivered by USPS https://www.usps.com/business/every-door-direct-mail.htm

To clarify, "here" is Ireland, not the US. The comments indicate in the US, USPS has a much greater share of spam delivery. (too late to edit the original post)

I have started to order for at-home delivery, including groceries. That is anec-data but I wouldn't be surprised if it is also the case for a lot of other people.

Also I know that ads of all kinds have dropped of a cliff.

I am in Denmark, but I imagine that people are people everywhere.

Most of my Amazon packages now come via Amazon's own logistics system at this point.

This is also hitting meat processors very hard. Fabrication (the processing of slaughter to produce cuts of meat ready to ship) is human labor intensive and must be done in refrigerated spaces, so the work is elbow to elbow in many places because space is at a premium.

Mail volume in the US is down? Interesting, here in Germany it's reported as being at christmas-time levels.

Most of my mail is advertisement. Maybe a lot of the advertisers are closed so they can send less mail.

USPS volume is said to be down in the US, not total residential mail & shipping volume.

Ah of course, letters vs parcels etc.

Yes, also USPS is only one of several carriers here. Each has a slightly different market. Decrease in one could occur simultaneous with increase of another.

Maybe Germans have a good residual letter-writing culture which has otherwise been wiped out by electronic communications, at least in the US.

Would be interested to know if that's the case.

I doubt mail volume is driven by hand written letters at any point.

Then again, here's Kevin Drum @ Mother Jones asking what he got wrong here:


RTLD: 41 cited deaths among 3M grocery workers is a lower death rate than the population as a whole ?

>RTLD: 41 cited deaths among 3M grocery workers is a lower death rate than the population as a whole ?

If you're comparing grocers death rate against the population as a whole, that's not a good comparison as it doesn't control for grocer's demographics. I think that grocers would be younger (on average) than the the general population, and therefore should have lower death rates.

What is the term for this sort of statistical error? I see it very often in online discussions.

I think it's related to Simpson's paradox [0] or general issues with interpreting conditional probabilities, but I'm not sure what the best overarching term is for this sort of fallacy.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simpson's_paradox

Failure to control for confounders.

Grocery store workers aren't going to be looking at aggregate statistics to make their decisions or decide how they feel. They are going to be basing it on "Joe in produce died and we think it was Coronavirus."

Then the entire store will be scared and it's not unreasonable because they probably interacted with Joe in produce at some point recently.

A lot of people aren't getting confirmation by testing. Most people will self diagnose based on symptoms. This means that official data undercounts deaths from the condition and unofficial data overcounts death from the condition, but this is a case of "which way do you bet?" And when faced with a pandemic, the way to bet is "That guy with that cough who is now dead probably died from the pandemic. No, I don't need official testing to be scared that I'm next because I pulled a shift with him recently."

> because they probably interacted with Joe in produce at some point recently

> because I pulled a shift with him recently

It's more likely they are scared of their customers rather than Joe. Because Joe is just a person who contacted with contagious clients and they will never contact him again. They've probably already sanitized their store. But they will have to contact other clients who infected Joe and there is nothing they can do to avoid that.

That may be true, but people tend to assess risk in a not entirely rational way.


> Have I made a mistake somewhere?

"At least" 41 deaths among 3 million grocery workers.

I can't imagine we have anything resembling complete data for the number of grocery workers who have died. "At least 41" could be 42; it could be 500. Trying to draw conclusions on the relative safety of a grocery store employee versus the general public from that number is crazy.

> Trying to draw conclusions on the relative safety of a grocery store employee versus the general public from that number is crazy.

That's exactly what the Washington Post article is doing.

Is it 14 per million in addition to the normal 22 per million? Then it would at least show up on the top ten causes of death.

Kevin notes some more weird things about the coronavirus here: https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2020/04/something-abo...

I'm immediately curious about the actual age distribution. Drum compares this to mortality for people between 20-65. My guesstimate is that grocery store workers are on average younger than the general population. I also wonder how many of the older grocery workers are taking time off.

3M protects from the coronavirus

In the SF south bay area stores have been very uneven across the board with respect to sanitizing and rate limiting customers. Some seem to be faster and started early (e.g. Trader Joe's) while others are doing little.

A few days ago was the first time I saw that most (not all) Whole Foods workers had PPE (mask, gloves). I'm hoping its a supply issue, but wouldn't be surprised if it was a corporate "don't scare people" issue.

While I strongly prefer to select my food for quality, I'd be happy for workers' sake if stores were pure pickup only (basically a local warehouse) with enough slots for everyone to get what they need; leaving delivery for those who really need it. But stores are just not equipped to handle that sort of operation.

I'm curious, how do gloves help protect you from Covid? It's not transmitted through the skin, and you will get just as sick if you touch your face with bare hands as with gloved hands.

The value of gloves is they help keep your hands clean. If you don't wear gloves, you are reliant on a good hand wash to get the virus off. You can miss spots, it can get under your nails. Gloves aren't going to help if you are touching your face with them, but they allow for a better decontamination process.

You're less likely to touch your face with gloves on, at any rate

You can throw your gloves away pretty easily.

I can't discard my hands several times a day when out and about.

It protects others from you and it's also harder to touch face when wearing them (try it). Also you might have a little paper cut...

It's not really a "don't scare people issue". (At least I know it's not in some cases.)

A lot of stores out there, when times were good, bought stylish new point of sale machines. These machines came with what were touted as "future proof" touch interfaces at the time. People have found that some of these devices don't actually work if you have gloves on. So at the store I'm familiar with, there is a complicated sanitizing and distancing procedure that everyone is supposed to go through when checking people out. Not surprisingly, strict adherence to a multistep process is not as consistent as just having everyone put on gloves.

On the plus side, learning more about it has helped me wrap my head around the sort of things that will inform successful post covid design.

Are the trader joes still not allowing the employees to wear masks & gloves / do you see any of the cashiers wearing them? When we talked to one cashier, before they started the lineup process, he said he wasn't allowed to wear a mask / gloves and it freaked him out, while he was liberally applying hand sanitizer to his hands.

I haven't been inside one since that day, which is why I'm asking.

I’ve seen gloves regularly but not masks. No plexiglass dividers either. As the state guidance is now to wear masks when out (with stores free to turn away non masked customers) I hope they let employees use what they want (and supply it).

I went to a Trader Joe’s last week and the policy appeared to have flipped: I didn’t see a single employee without a mask on. Every register had been outfitted with plexiglass as well.

Interesting. Maybe it’s still being rolled out. They didn’t have this in SNV recently.

At The Fresh Market, I got an email that starting tomorrow employees AND customers will be required to wear masks.

I noticed they aren't very consistent. Some stores already put up plexiglass barriers in front of the cashiers, appear to be enforcing distance, etc. Others aren't.

Grocery worker COVID deaths: 41/900000 = 0.00004555555 (this number is from article and only for union members).

Total US COVID deaths: 28000/328000000 = 0.00008536585. So seemingly there's nothing particularly risky about being a grocery store worker. In fact, you're about half as likely to die!

Keep in mind the 328mm number includes children, non-working adults, etc and of course total deaths are skewed towards older non-working adults. Still it's extremely frustrating, but not surprising, that the media refuses to do any sort of cursory analysis like this.

It's probably not about death, it's probably about the no insurance and risk of bankruptcy by hospitalization they fear.

Does workman's comp cover on job exposure?

That's not what the article is about.

I seriously doubt that the dramatically increased exposure you get as a grocery store worker makes you safer, and suspect this effect reverses once you control for risk factors.

A more interesting and intellectually honest article would flesh this out a bit, maybe with actual evidence.

Really? Should they also "flesh out" that the death rate in hospitals is higher than in your home, even if they don't have the time adequately control for "people only being in the hospital when they're sick or nearly fatal to begin with"?

Working in a grocery store rather than staying at home is, intuitively, less safe. If they're not able to carefully control for the risk factors, they're doing a disservice to report that figure by itself. And it's a non-trivial amount of work to do so such controls, simply to appease those who repeat over-clever contrarian factoids like that one.

We've basically split our population into two groups, a large group that is (hopefully) staying put and not interacting with the world as much as possible, and a small group that is still going about business as usual, because we need them to. The smaller group is hopefully doing everything they can reduce their risks, but small risks repeated frequently become likely odds.

As a civilization, this still buys us a lot (in the US, it's the difference between 30 million and 230 million people catching the disease and some percent of them dying), but even if you assume all 3 million grocery store employees are in the low-risk 20-29 demographic, we're still expecting ~1200 of them to die from COVID-19, given our current understanding of the disease.

That alone would make working in a grocery store roughly as dangerous as being a coal miner in the present day US, or roughly 4 times more dangerous than being a police officer; it gets worse if you assume many employees are not in the lowest risk category.

We will all get the disease, we won't delay it enough to get a vaccine. Those people will just get it earlier.

What we are fighting for is to not let everybody get it at the same time. Because when that happens, not only this disease kills a whole lot more, but other diseases and accidents and whatever start killing many times more too.

The rational thing would be to pay grocery workers in risk groups (underlying diseases, age) to stay at home.

(And recruit healthy young people to temporarily replace them.)

>(And recruit healthy young people to temporarily replace them.)

better yet, people who recovered from covid-19.

That's not a guarantee of anything. Reinfection or relapsing happens and is not explained yet.

Yep hopefully antibody tests come soon

Just close up shop entirely and go to deliveries / curbside pickup with full PPE protections, hazard pay, and economic protections for those who don't want to risk their lives for your oreos.

> Just close up shop entirely and go to deliveries / curbside pickup

Existing grocery delivery services are already way overburdened, and desperately scaling up[1].

> risk their lives for your oreos.

You can't possibly think that going to the grocery store is so frivolous and unnecessary, as this statement would imply. Or do you?

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/0...

> Existing grocery delivery services are already way overburdened, and desperately scaling up[1].

Not exactly. They're unwilling to increase pay and working conditions in order to scale up. With millions rapidly unemployed, they should have no real trouble hiring if they actually pay for it. You should never, ever trust Amazon's rhetoric when it comes to hiring low-wage workers.

This also doesn't address curbside pickup. Several stores in my area are doing it and it limits contact.

> You can't possibly think that going to the grocery store is so frivolous and unnecessary, as this statement would imply. Or do you?

I know people who still go to the grocery store 2-3 times a week and buy snacks, yes. I'm not saying that groceries are non-essential, I'm saying that the system should be reworked to protect the most vulnerable and exploited at no impact to you other than convenience / not changing your routine. Those are the elements we're weighing: how much is their suffering worth compared to what "consumers" are doing? Should there be oreos on the shelf at all? Shouldn't we, at the bare minimum, be limiting access to necessary items if in-person contact is required?

I have a hunch they will instead fire, or bully them into continuing working.

Well, these store have to stay open, no matter what. So I guess there's nothing to be done, other than have low-risk populations ready to fill these roles.

Seems a little bit scare-mongery to me.

> there's nothing to be done, other than have low-risk populations ready to fill these roles.

Or increase wages. Quantity demanded of labor is greater than supply. It's relatively-unskilled work, so drawing new entrants to the labor pool isn't prohibitive. But it isn't happening at prevailing wages.

That wage increase, in turn, might merit price increases for customers. If politicians find that untenable, they may spread the cost to taxpayers instead through public programs.

If you're involved at any of these levels, reading the writing on the wall would be useful.

Why would a corporation do that? These jobs are "essential" and are also extremely easy to replace. That's why we don't see wages going up and likely will see the opposite in the coming few months.

Supply is FAR larger than demand right now. Have you seen the unemployment rate right now?

Probably true, but better to push hard first on ways to lower the risk to workers.

> Well, these store have to stay open, no matter what.

No, they certainly don't. What's necessary is that people get food. How they get it is open to discussion.

Food-delivery services in many countries are overburdened even with the local supermarkets remaining open. There may be room for discussion about a universal food-delivery system for future lockdowns, but right now supermarkets are the only realistic way for the population to get their sustenance.

These supply chains are well oiled machines compared to new and untested emergency methods of procuring and delivering food to an entire nation, but I'm willing to hear other suggestions out of interest

Most stores in my area are offering free curbside pickup now. Moving to pickup-only would significantly lower the human contact, both employee/customer and customer/customer. Nobody is talking about giving up on existing supply chains. Just the employee/product/customer mosh pit at the end.

That final part where customers perform a random walk around a warehouse until they've found everything is not a "well oiled machine". Better to hire some professional shoppers who know where everything is. It'll be faster and safer.

Even if you insist on remaining open to the general public walking around your store, there's a million things you can do. Some stores are limiting the number of customers in the store at one time. Some stores are requiring face masks. Some stores are marking aisles as "one-way" to make it easier to maintain distance. The last store I was in had plastic film over the payment keypads, and sanitized it between customers. We know how to improve things. There's just not a ton of consistency yet.

Agree with you about the pickup part, I think that's a reasonable pivot. I was only referencing the supply chain portion with the "well oiled machine" bit and was just worried about drastic changes that would significantly alter the functioning of the existing distribution of goods. I'm totally on board with all the the smaller optimizations you mention

There definitely should be a rule limiting the number of people allowed in stores.

I've quit going to our before pandemic store. It is impossible to social distance.

We need cultural changes.

More self checkout.

More automatic sliding doors.

Better designed public bathrooms similar to Walmart bathrooms: No door at all; choice between paper towels and hot air hand dryer; touchless faucets and automatic flush toilets.

Hand sanitizer at every cash register.

Better training for cashiers. Cashiers who do things like lick their fingers to open bags have long been the bane of my existence because I have a compromised immune system.

What we are doing now is not the way it has to be. PPE is not the optimal solution.

I think we have our priorities backwards. We emphasize the hell out of hand washing. It's number one on the list of "five things" the WHO is encouraging people to do to stop the spread.

Number three is "Stop touching your face." That should be the top priority. It's prevention.

Emphasizing hand washing as more important than "stop touching your face" is implicitly telling people "It's okay to expose yourself. Just use soap afterwards and everything will be okay."

No, it won't. You need to stop touching your face. You need to stop licking your fingers to separate grocery bags.

On top of that, you should also wash hands frequently. But washing hands frequently isn't enough in the current culture where people are oblivious about the things they touch.

When I ask cashiers "Please don't do that" or "Please use hand sanitizer now that you have licked your fingers" they sometimes tell me they didn't do what I just watched them do seconds ago. They do it so habitually, they aren't even consciously aware of it anymore.

In some cases, they get belligerent with me. How dare I ask them to practice germ control! How rude!

Yes, this was mostly before the pandemic. I've been trying to protect myself from infection for a lot of years. It's largely irrelevant to my point.

My son told me he saw two people hugging in the parking lot of the grocery store and one of them confusedly asked "Aren't we supposed to not hug?" and the other, an older person, dismissed that with "We aren't supposed to hug strangers!"

Even with their lives on the line, people are failing to get the memo that you can't run around touching everyone and everything. This needs to somehow stop and I'm appalled that the WHO is part of the problem here in that they are emphasizing hand washing as the top priority rather than emphasizing "Keep your hands clean to begin with by not touching every damn thing, especially not your face."

And I don't know if the WHO is that stupid and honest to god doesn't realize that not touching stuff is the more important thing or if they have studies and yadda and they believe that it is a lost cause to tell people "No, really, stop touching stuff!!!" and hand washing will get more compliance, so they emphasize that.

But they have their priorities backwards. We can get this under control, but we have to practice germ control and the messaging we are getting is insufficient.

PPE and other temporary solutions make a lot more sense than major construction projects. This pandemic will end and we will need to go back to being a society that regularly gets sick and has correspondingly effective immune systems.

Otherwise, we will be vastly worse off the next time we face a novel disease.

Every old culture with a history of dense populations in relatively large cities has certain cultural things in common, such as bowing instead of shaking hands and consuming very spicy foods (which help kill microbes).

I think you are flat out wrong. With 7 billion people on the planet, we need to quit sharing our germs like we all live in some tiny little village with the same 100 or so people and never travel. The fact that we persist with practices that worked okay in such settings is a large part of why we are seeing this pandemic.

It absolutely doesn't have to be this way.

Actually, the number one thing would be to use a mask whenever you are out. I suspect breathing in aerosolised virus particles is the main mode of infection now. Second would be not touching your face. Washing hands, as important as it is, comes third.

I laugh inwardly whenever I see stores requiring the use of hand sanitizer at their entrances; they should be handing out masks if they are serious. Of course that's much more expensive than doling out sanitizer.

I expected governments to organize mass production and distribution of re-usable face masks for their populations, but so far I see nothing of the sort. If we are going to be able to resume a somewhat normal life going forward, use of mask has to become the norm rather than the exception.

I used to use a lot of medical equipment that had to be sterilized daily in boiling water. One day, we accidentally boiled all the water out and we had to replace the bulb syringe and find some new way to sterilize on a budget when buying a new pot to replace the ruined was temporarily beyond our means.

So we bought distilled water and that was not only dramatically more effective than boiling, it stopped putting steam into the air in our apartment and that brought down the levels of ambient mold spores and noticeably improved air quality.

I've had similar experiences with, for example, ozone machines. And I increasingly moved away from things like shiny tech and personal medical gear because it gradually became clear that maintaining such things is problematic.

And I'm no doubt running a fever and wasting my time replying to you. But I really think the emphasis on masks is misguided.

Don't touch your face and don't cough on people and don't blow your nose in public. If you aren't coughing, sneezing, etc at people and you are giving them a wide berth, you aren't likely to share your germs with them.

Anyway, I think I should probably step away from this discussion. It's probably not productive.

You have a nice day.

Japan is doing that - https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-02/from-aben...

Not received very well for several reasons. But I have to say, as a US resident, I am impressed to see that Japanese TV shows politicians and others in public wearing masks now. While it's encouraging that the CDC now recommends use, wearing them is great from normalized yet.

We need no-contact home delivery.

To do it in a just way: full PPE protections, hazard pay, and eliminating the brutal economic exploitation forcing people to go to work in these conditions: give them other options.

If these are supposedly essential services, this is not too much to ask.

There is a long list of problems with this suggestion, starting with how amazingly classist it is.

Let's just point out that some people are homeless, soup kitchens are closing and homeless people still need to somehow eat.

Homelessness is a problem we should have already done something about before we had a global pandemic, but couldn't be arsed because we were too busy being in denial about the systemic issues that help foster it. We prefer the narrative that "It's just a bunch of crazies and junkies and not caused by our crappy housing policies and health care policies in the US. No need to actually build housing that people can afford to live in without a car and without taking on a roommate they've never met before."

As someone who actually has a compromised immune system, I don't want delivery drivers. I hate getting food delivered.

People are at their worst when they are alone with no eyes on them. I don't want angry, stressed out, underpaid people alone with my food for ten minutes or more while they drive it to my home (which happens to be not conducive to contactless delivery and I don't want to get into the reasons why, suffice it to say it isn't a McMansion in the 'burbs).

I don't know what possesses people to imagine that delivery is superior method for germ control. That doesn't at all fit with my understanding of life, the universe and everything.

"There is a long list of problems with this suggestion, starting with how amazingly classist it is."

It's the opposite of classist, it's about bringing food to everyone in the safest way possible.

This is how Vietnam handled their lockdown to great success and they guaranteed food to everyone.

"Let's just point out that some people are homeless, soup kitchens are closing and homeless people still need to somehow eat."

Bring food to them. Everyone deserves to eat. In addition, house them. Hotels are more empty than ever before.

"As someone who actually has a compromised immune system, I don't want delivery drivers. I hate getting food delivered."

The grocery store is even worse. It's a nexus for disease, has unenforceable distancing, and mandatory touching of shared materials. Delivered food (i.e., groceries if you can cook) will have to be sterilized just like food you buy at the grocery store, but without those concerns. If it's stable at ambient outdoor temperature, you can also leave it outside for hours to decrease the chance of contact.

"I don't know what possesses people to imagine that delivery is superior method for germ control. That doesn't at all fit with my understanding of life, the universe and everything."

This is a tried and true method that limits contact and the spread of disease.

I don't know if self checkout would necessarily be a good thing in it's current form, there is a lot of common touch points with the screen. A cashier in a sealed box would be better or a different self checkout process (app based?) would be better so you don't have to touch / breathe on common equipment.

I've used self checkout for years as a means to help manage my serious medical condition. The local grocery store recently upgraded its self checkout from four poorly designed machines to six better ones. It isn't perfect, but it's generally better than standing in line waiting on a cashier who will then lick their fingers or something.

The local Walmart is wiping down self checkout regularly at the moment.

I'm not looking for perfect. I'm just telling you that I've been managing my life for nearly two decades since my diagnosis and 1. Cashiers who do nonsense like lick their fingers are a huge problem for me and 2. Self checkout is much, much better.

I pay for the Post. Love their reporting. But man! I've never seen so much fear mongering as they've peddled in the last month. News is a product—I get that. But they're straining to wring every last drop out of COVID.

How is this article fear-mongering? And how are they "straining to wring every last drop out of COVID"?

To me, these seem like natural articles to write in the middle of a pandemic, and their coverage has also seemed appropriate to being in the middle of a pandemic.

I think it's fear mongering because it makes people worry whether grocery stores will be able to stay open. As somebody who lives in NYC, I can tell you right now, that if they didn't, it would cause a panic (right now my local grocer won't let people in without masks).

If a panic happened, this could lead people to things like looting. I think looting would be incredibly dangerous, more dangerous than the virus itself. Thus I find it borderline irresponsible to "stoke the fire" by writing an article like this without properly putting necessary disclaimers.

And I suppose I don't consider it fear mongering because I use the term when someone in the media is saying "X is going to happen," while X is exceedingly unlikely to happen, and it is of negligible risk to their audience. I don't think that is the case with this article; there is no discussion of grocery shut down, but rather reporting the effect it has had on the workers, including poor treatment from management.

I am less concerned with panic. I think the greater danger now is people not taking Covid-19 seriously enough. Ironically, the not-wanting-to-cause-panic sentiment was what some grocery store management cited as a reason employees could not wear masks, as reported in the article.

Can you be more specific? This article and the others I have seen from WP haven't been unduly sensational.

Perhaps you are talking about op eds rather than news articles? (I have often felt that newspapers should do op eds in a different font or color from regular articles, but that's another story.)

Not the parent, but I could take a stab at what I think they mean. I think we all agree that the situation for these workers right now must be terrible. They are certainly put at higher risk, and it must be very stressful. I don't blame many of them for being scared. I think about it every time I seem them when I shop.

But I can see how this is perceived as sensational starting with the headline. Things like "War Zone", and "As more of the die" really set the tone a certain way up front. OK, so how many have died. Forty one? Not sure how they compiled that number, but sure. Is that a lot? Well, I don't know. Can't say I have a frame of reference. How many deaths should we expect from a give occupational group, especially one that is at higher risk?

Well, let's keep reading, surely we'll get some hard analysis of the stats. Nope. Just a bunch of anecdotes and heart wrenching quotes from the interviews. Well, they do present some numbers from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, maybe that's where they got the 41 dead number. So 1500 plus confirmed infected, 3000 plus not working from hospitalization, quarantine, et-cetera.

Again, is that a lot? I'm not sure, the author give us no frame of reference. Seems like they want us to think it is a lot though. I mean if the the thesis holds true, then these numbers should be well above average, considering the increased risk these workers have.

This topic is clearly relevant, and something we should all be sensitive of when we go out to shop. These folks are under an incredible stress right now. But I can see how articles like this could be seen as 'fear mongering' or sensational. It should be the reporters responsibility to do the leg work, and be able to frame the data, and the thesis, in a reasonable way.

We don't really get that analysis here, just sad stories and quotes, that just leave us feeling bad or scared at the end. We are left with a 'feeling' that grocery store workers are dying at some 'astronomical' rate, and the inside of every store is chaos.

This has been the case from day with essentially every story I have read. A month ago, when my company started working from, I was caught rather by surprise because I don’t really follow the news.

I wanted a frame of reference, how bad is this thing, really? I googled “Coronavirus vs swine flu vs sars vs mers vs West Nile virus.” Every single hit was a conspiracy theory like website. Which tells you that no “serious” journalist could be bothered to ask that obvious question. Nope. All they can be bothered to do is write fear mongering drivel this.

every news outlet is doing that. every political leader (garcetti in LA particularly) is doing that. it foments fear and hysteria. it's infuriating.

news sites post infection/death numbers for covid front and center, conveniently ignoring the 98-99% of non-covid deaths that are just as tragic and heartbreaking. they did that during 9/11 and for every mass shooting since. it's sickening.

Covid-19 is now the leading daily cause of death in the US. It's novel, people care about it, and it's more immediately preventable through collective action than other leading causes of death (2nd and 3rd are heart disease and cancer). I don't see how media attention is unreasonable.

Breaking the data into "current daily" is the most extreme way of framing the data, given that we are currently suffering a rush of deaths due to the delayed effect of accelerated infection rates that occurred before the shutdown. (Many of the individual infections occurred after, but the critical mass of asymptomatic carriers occured before, in NY and other hotspots.)

as of this morning, using LA Times numbers:

23K infections / 40M people in CA = 0.058% infection rate

682 deaths / 40M = 0.0017% death rate

yet neither of those percentages are listed. both rates have crested, yet there's no chart or graph emphasizing that. no curve showing high and low expectations of either rate modeled into the future.

most of the deaths have one or more co-morbidities, which means that a harsh flu or bacterial pneumonia would likely be roughly as deadly to them. no indications of that either. this kind of news could actually help people grasp the real risks rather than simply inducing anxiety and panic.

flu pandemics are preventable via the same collective measures, potentially saving 40K lives a year in the US, yet we don't get hysterical about collective action every winter.

media attention being understandable is different from it being reasonable.

> 98-99% of non-covid deaths that are just as tragic and heartbreaking

I think this belies a lack of understanding of COVID's growth curve. Early numbers were low compared to other diseases, but the exponential nature of the spread means that without the drastic measures we are taking (which some call excessively fearful) COVID could enact a massive death toll.

Even with all the measures we are taking, COVID has already overtaken all other causes of death in the USA: https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-leading-cause-of-dea...


>so your belief is that information about deaths from a current pandemic or terrorist attack is not newsworthy?

You misrepresent the parent comment. In no way did they imply that information about deaths is not newsworthy. We have more choices here than two extremes.

I actually was asking a question of the parent commenter.

You phrased your response in the form of a question, but in general that format doesn't preclude a commentator from misrepresenting another's views. Your comment was of the form:

>"so [statement A]? [question predicated on statement A]?"

In this case, statement A was a non-sequitur derived from an uncharitable interpretation. It appears at least three different people had a similar view, as I did not flag this comment.

It's not a non-sequitur, the commenter said they didn't think COVID-19 deaths, mass shooting deaths, and 9/11 deaths should be reported on prominently. This seems like an astonishing statement, hence the question!

Every time they post total numbers for the US, I divide by 3.3e8 and marvel at how small the numbers actually are (so far).

Fear mongering?

Are service workers not dying for your convenience? Are they not working despite lacking PPE or hazard pay or the economic privilege of having the option to quit and/or work from home, as so many HN readers do?

If you don't think it's actually this bad, I recommend that you sign up for a part-time gig working at a grocery store and see how fun it is.

I will give the parent the benefit of the doubt and assume they think it's fear mongering because of the style and sensationalism of the article (and others this month), not that they are heartless and don't care about the well being of these workers. I don't think it's productive to take that line.

Of course its horrible, I assume we all hate to hear this. I think about how bad it must suck to work at a grocery store every time I go and see the people there working. The issue I think is when an article puts things like "It's a War Zone", or "As more of them die" in the headline for example.

It is true it must be very risky and stressful to work there right now. Hard to imagine. But there isn't much actual analysis of the numbers. 'At least' 41 are dead? How did they calculate that number? Is that a lot? More than we would expect for a give occupation? I don't know, they don't really explain, it's just a bunch of super sad stories and interview quotes.

That's a bit too generous. Their primary concern when reading the article was, "too much fear mongering". I don't assume they were malicious so much as detached and overlooking things that they shouldn't.

"It's a War Zone" is incorrect, but "As more of them die" is not. The former is a dumb metaphor, the latter is just a correct description.

Given worker conditions, it is plain that they are being put at unnecessary risks and that these risks are fundamentally exploitative - folks have to either put their lives at risk for corporate profits (no PPE provided, frequently) or potentially become homeless, lose their insurance during a pandemic, etc. Estimating the numbers is something to go do, sure, but it doesn't change the dangerous material conditions on the ground and the dark nature of our response. Look at who bears the burden and why they do it.

It has to be incredibly stressful. I wonder what's going through workers heads every time I see them while I shop. As you said, many are between a rock and a hard place. The high school/ college kids still living at home not as much. But the adults, and the many retirement age people you see working at grocery stores don't have that luxury. Keep going into a risky work environment and scraping by, or quit and try to wait your turn in the infinite unemployment line. Depending on location, who knows how long it would be before benefits are paid. Very sad...

41 dead out of 3 million.

Odds aren't so bad yet.

On its face, this is probably true. But when the process is showing exponential growth, and quality data (i.e., deaths) is lagging by weeks, it's not unreasonable to be very conservative in one's risk estimate.

Once the exponential phase has clearly passed, I'm guessing we'll start treating this more like traffic fatalities. As in, Yeah, tens of thousands die each year, and we could easily cut this in half, but why bother?

A person's tolerance for odds of dying is understandably relative to context. A grocery store worker would be rightfully unhappy about increased odds of dying, even if their odds of dying remain very low absolutely speaking.

I feel like knowledgeable people have always encouraged the general public to understand statistics and realize that, as dangerous as some things might seem, the risk from them is very low, i.e. “Don’t be afraid to do common activity X, because many more people perish in a year from heavy things falling on them at home, or in car crashes” etc. But now with the virus that calm and sober thinking is all going out the window and some are suggesting that it is fine for the public to fret and panic.

A person's tolerance for dying mostly seems to be relative to how attention-grabbing the cause of death is and how much attention the press gives it. I do have to wonder if some of these groups of workers are actually any more at risk from this than they would be from the flu during a typical winter, given how heavily concentrated Covid-19 deaths are in the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. These jobs are more exposed to the flu for exactly the same reasons as they are to Covid-19, but we don't keep a count of how many grocery workers die of ther flu each year, or how many nurses and other medical staff, because it's just the flu, and there certainly aren't headlines keeping us up to date on the tally.

How many of those 3 million have gotten brutally ill and had to spend many days suffering at home or hooked up to a ventilator, wondering if they would survive the week? Probably a lot more than 41 people.

How many more people are going to get very sick in the upcoming weeks and months? Probably a lot more.

Dismissing the workers' concerns with misleading statistics like you have done here is irresponsible at best.

emphasis on "at least", do you honestly think there is solid public data of the exact occupational breakdown of all 22K people who have died in the US so far?

Will the CDC will eventually have that data? They're using death certificates, and I think those should include occupation. (Although I don't know how this works in the US).


> Future updates to this release may include additional detail such as demographic characteristics, additional causes of death (e.g., acute respiratory distress syndrome or other comorbidities), or estimates based on models that account for reporting delays to generate more accurate predicted provisional counts.

Guide to death certificates for covid-19: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvss/vsrg/vsrg03-508.pdf

The vast majority of those 3 million don't have health insurance and would be completely destroyed financially with a hospital stay.

Citation? Every major grocery store chain I am aware provides health insurance to their full time employees, and many like Publix and Lidl also provide to part time workers. I know many part time workers aren't getting health insurance, but they aren't a vast majority of grocery store employees.

Maybe in the northeast or west that's the case. I worked for a major grocery store chain for 7 years, and in a store of over 80 employees there were maybe 20 full timers, including management. When you're making 12 bucks an hour, going halfsies on a $600 a month medical plan with a $5000 deductible doesn't make any sense.

Uninsured folks treated for covid-19 will be covered according to one of the recent briefings. There is also an enrollment period triggered for those who lose their jobs

Having watched people deal with government benefits at all levels, I am not surprised that they don't trust that they will be covered. Even still, since when is potentially dying of an illness an intelligent trade off for a minimum wage job?

Agree with your last bit, maybe better to go on unemployment depending on one's risk profile, health, and family status

Do you work at a grocery store or other retail establishment dealing with the public every day? I'm no statistician but I suspect your take on the odds is pretty meaningless. It's probably riskier to be bagging groceries in Jersey City, NJ than in some other places.

What? So only people who bag groceries are allowed to double-check the math?

EDIT: I can't reply to the post below because HN has told me I'm posting too much (last post was 12 minutes ago?) so rather than leave the point up without the ability to defend it I'll just remove.

How is you calling that guys numerical point worthless any different than if you said "Those grocery store workers aren't professionals, they don't know the odds, their opinion is meaningless" ?

Those are incredibly optimistic numbers.

Remember, western countries are not testing sufficiently. Deaths are up by the thousands all over the place but they're not being recorded as COVID-19 cases because there was no testing.

Over 1 million people died in road incidents worldwide

Every time you commute, you are playing Russian roulette

Considering the callousness of the average consumer, a pandemic would be the bale that breaks the camel's back. It's hard enough to deal with them already. Knowing how filthy the average human is even before the pandemic, the idea that they can now give me a lethal disease would be the dealbreaker.

Listening to capitalists, one would think that wages would just increase and safety would increase to equilibrate the labor supply. It's interesting that doesn't happen, but instead these major retail companies are taking out huge ad buys to performatively praise their workers in front of third parties.

Of course. That's corporate America strategy #1. Never fix anything, never concede to anyone, never admit wrong, and if all else fails distract with a PR campaign or by donating a tiny amount of money. As if the damage a company like Amazon (just as an example) could ever be mitigated by donations from Bezos. It's a clever trick. Starbucks buying coffee from war torn areas? No problem. Donate some money to charity and pretend the company isn't a piece of shit exploiting the world. Workers dying at supermarkets? No problem. Put up bullshit ads and other PR materials to pretend you care. Companies don't have feelings of course, but it'll gain the goodwill of Americans too stupid to realize they are being swindled.

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