Grocery Delivery for At-Risk Groups During the Pandemic

As demand increases for home delivery for groceries during the Covid-19 pandemic, there needs to be a way to prioritize those groups of people who are truly in need so that they don’t risk exposure to the virus. Cover photo source.

So many people are at risk by simply being by in public that it has halted most retail shopping for them, or has modified it. Being able to shop and risking exposure to this rampant virus is a whole new way of thinking, since the United States in particular hasn’t faced a public health crisis like this since possibly the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

I am not here to create public policy, or to regulate businesses. I am not a scientist, a doctor, or an advocate for any group in particular. I am attempting to theorize a solution to current pent up demand for grocery delivery from a utilitarian point of view in order to save lives. While at-risk groups, especially seniors, do have early shopping hours at some supermarkets, home delivery has also become more popular with the advent of smartphones, and may provide a safer experience for them overall.

Right now, grocery delivery is simply queued through market decision – whoever ordered first. This is probably the best call to start so that services can self-manage their own demand and be able to scale. However, there are groups of people in general and during a pandemic who will need priority service as they are at risk; going out to get groceries might be a very difficult task for these people, or they simply cannot do it safely at all. I tried to think of as many groups as possible who may be in need right now, and a criteria to prove their need. This would not take into account any additional delivery or program fees one might need to pay; it would only affect the queuing of existing delivery orders. I do propose that demand can be increased for these at-risk groups artificially in order to protect them through the waiving or reducing delivery fees, but these promotions would be left up to the retailer.

As it would be unregulated, there would be an opt-in to prove information in an app if you wanted to participate. “Contactless” delivery options would be automatically selected.

See the following groups which may be at risk. I am also not ranking these groups, since I believe that I am not qualified to do so.

People who rely on public transit.

While you can’t prove if someone has a car or not, if you have a state ID with no driving capabilities, the app would simply require a photo of a valid ID of it in order to fall into this group. Exposure on a bus or train, or through a ride share would more than likely not conform to social distancing standards.

Those who are ill with symptoms.

This is harder to prove. If there was enough testing for Covid-19 or other seasonal diseases, and you could provide results within a certain time period (for example, one week), then that could potentially allow someone to prove their need and jump the delivery queue. Ideally, more clinics will provide drive through testing as a standard for the future. Although it will be up for debate, digital medical records could be also shared to prove a condition through a services like Apple Health.

Those who are physically or mentally disabled.

This is really dependent on the definition of what kind of disability might immobilize someone, and should be left up to the experts to decide. If you are wheelchair bound, you should certainly take priority in this group since it may will be more difficult to shop in a crowded store for you.

Those who are elderly.

I get that some elderly persons are more capable than others, but we do tend to see senior citizen discounting to groups over 65. A valid license should be able to prove this for this group to be able to jump the delivery queue. In the case of Covid-19, the early information that was presented found that the elderly were more at risk of death from the virus.

Those with compromised immune systems.

This is dependent on what the medical definition of a compromised immune system is. Women who are pregnant may be at risk. If you can prove through digital healthcare records that you recovered from cancer, for example, you may fall into this group. This also goes back to the disability group.

Healthcare workers.

Those on the front lines who may be exposed or cannot shop in normal hours must be prioritized.

There could be other groups prioritized, but the above conditions should be easiest to prove. If these groups were taken care of first in order to encourage their social distancing, it could potentially save thousands of lives. Delivery prioritization could be expanded to regular flu seasons as well.

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