As stores reopened, these Maine shoppers played it safe

Billiann Dolby’s grandfather lost two young sisters in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

That loss is in the back of her mind as she takes precautions to shop for her family, which ranges in age from 3 to 71 years old under the same roof. In a word, her approach is “mindful,” including wearing a mask, shopping when stores aren’t crowded and being the only one in her household to venture out. She also likes to shop at local farmers markets.

“I said to one son, ‘I’d rather tell your children stories about me than have you tell them stories about me,’” Dolby, 64, of Hallowell, said.

She is among the many Mainers who changed their shopping habits when the novel coronavirus came to Maine in March and Gov. Janet Mills issued a stay-at-home order and curtailed activities at restaurants and other businesses.

Even as nonessential businesses reopened in July, careful shoppers still opted for curbside pickup, big grocery trips for enough food to last at least a couple weeks and stores where sanitizer is plentiful and staff and shoppers wear masks and physical distance. For some, it’s to keep themselves safe. For others, it’s to avoid spreading the virus to susceptible elderly friends and family or those with underlying conditions.

The changes coincide with reduced movement by people nationally and in Maine as the virus surges. Trips to recreation and retail establishments were down 19 percent on Nov. 20, similar to a 20 percent decline nationally, according to Google data. Those reports compared last Friday to the median value for the corresponding Friday during the five-week period from Jan. 3, to Feb. 6, before the virus hit the United States hard. Travel to food sellers and pharmacies was down 2 percent in Maine and 8 percent nationally last Friday.

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