PORTLAND, Ore — Even as stores, theaters, restaurants and bars shut down across Oregon, grocery stores are remaining open.

Authorities have designated supermarkets as a necessary exception to the social distancing protocols governing the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak – but that doesn’t mean shoppers are any less susceptible to infection while buying food.

So some grocers are setting aside early morning hours for “vulnerable shoppers” who are at most at risk from COVID-19, the disease associated with the coronavirus. That includes older people and those with compromised immune systems.

The customer restrictions are all voluntary -- no one has said they will turn away younger customers -- so it’s not clear how effective these steps will be in limiting who is shopping or preventing spread of the virus.

“We are asking our customers to help us observe a Senior Shopping Hour from 8-9am every Monday through Friday, so we can provide extra space and assistance to these customers,” Portland supermarket chain New Seasons said Tuesday.

Albertsons and Safeway – which are the same company, operating under different names -- said it will set aside 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays “for those most at risk in our communities.”

Fred Meyer's and QFC announced on Saturday, March 21, that they will set aside the hour from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m, Monday through Thursday, for senior citizen shoppers.

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Target said it will “reserve” the first hour of shopping on Wednesdays for “vulnerable guests.” And Whole Foods said it will open one hour early for customers over 70.

None of the companies indicated how or whether they plan to enforce the restrictions.

Early mornings have sometimes been the busiest during the outbreak as shoppers race to stock up on supplies such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer that have been hard to keep on the shelves.

So it may ultimately be up to the goodwill of other shoppers to maintain those restrictions.

-- Mike Rogoway | mrogoway@oregonian.com | twitter: @rogoway | 503-294-7699

This article was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving heath issue. 

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