The Opening Up: Stick to the Florist, It’s the Safest Place!

What to wear? A big day ahead. Leopard print top, matching earrings, boots with a heel perhaps? Good black pants. A bit more time spent on styling my hair and perhaps even eyeliner today? A big day out in this Corona Virus world means I’m driving out of town to buy mushrooms and good quality mince from my favourite butcher. That’s it! But’s out of town!

Driving home I hear the Victorian premier announce the easing of some of the restrictions. We can have 5 people in the house now. People can drop in. We can have the family to lunch. We can go fishing and play golf, It’s limited, safe and conservative and I’m over the moon! Like a handful of countries in the world Australia, so far, has been dealt a light touch of the Corona virus thanks to effective leadership, good health management and the willingness of the Australian people to largely toe the line. While we tip – toe towards opening the economy and easing restrictions, we look, nose on the window, at what’s happening in the USA and “life as normal” in some states.

After my big day out and over a cuppa I came across an interesting article in the New York Times written by a group of professors from the University of Chicago. Titled, Is it safer to visit coffee shops or the gym, the article summarised their research using surveys and GPS data from phones in the USA during normal shopping conditions ie without restrictions. Their key area of exploration was – Can we identify the likely ” super-spreader ” businesses that are high risk for Corona Virus?

Using GPS data and surveys asking people about their shopping habits in the US they explored

  • How long do people stay in the store or shop? ie average length of the visit
  • What is the concentration of people in different stores and at different times of the day?
  • How many touch points/ contacts points exist in the store?

Their findings are interesting.

  • People stay twice as long in an electronics store as they do in a garden shop or plant nursery. ” A display of new phones and gadgets is an invitation to mill around: you don’t linger over fertilizer.” This is interesting because electronics stores in Australia were deemed essential shopping and have been making a killing as home office users upgrade their technology. On-balance decision making, I guess.
  • Shoppers are likely to spend twice as much time in an op shop ( charity store) than a $2 store. Op shops remain closed in Victoria. The whole issue of trying on clothes is a hygiene hell!
  • When it comes to the concentration of shoppers we find toys, books and sporting goods stores score in the top percentile of risk but a florist is a safety heaven… Florists rank lowest for being super spreaders.. another great reason to treat yourself to flowers every week!
  • Fast food restaurants are a no- no unless you drive through. Like food malls they are at the pinnacle of super spreaders. They are busy, people wait and congregate.
  • Gyms have fewer visitors than say food malls per square metre but they stay longer, touch more surfaces and interact more. Gyms need to be managed very differently in the Corona Virus world
  • High contact services such as nails and beauty are super -spreaders  but we illogically chosen to put hair services in a different category!
  • Sit down restaurants, cafes and bars are high risk. large numbers of people in close contact with a large number of touch points and staying for an extended period of time. It’s no wonder that in Victoria we won’t be dining out for some time to come.

Some businesses are super-spreaders. Through the lens of contagion a yoga class, busy corner store or a crowded neighbourhood may look a lot like a wet market in China.”

In many ways businesses are already adapting to social distancing, cashless transactions and limiting the number of shoppers in the store at one time. Curbside pick-up of shopping, drive through and online shopping have quickly established their place in our new world. This research points to the places of greatest risk and provides an interesting insight into a new world of service and product consumerism.

Looking beyond the article, what is interesting is the broader cultural conversation about how much do we really need? Is there a trend to more thoughtful expenditure of limited funds and also a re-examination of how we live, what we really need and better ways of being more responsible consumers. The sale of chickens and back yard chook houses says it all. A 20 fold increase in sales since the end of February and still rising!

Words By Nora Vitins.  Feature Image by Secret Garden from Pixels.
Research: Is it Safer to Visit a coffee shop or gym? May 6 2020 New York Times by Katherine Boucher, Oeindrilla Dube, Devin Pope and Gus Wezerek from the University of Chicago.

14 May 2020 | Life-Style


  1. Dear Nora
    Flowers, yes! We are still following strict guidelines in Nova Scotia. It seems to be working. Now in Lunenburg a number of restaurants are doing take out and that gives us welcomed other options. As well our weekly farmers market has gone on line. You chose what you want, e transfer money and pick it up once a week. I am particularly enjoying this, no lines, no running out of cash or fighting crowds (our weekly market is very popular). We can even buy flowers and perennials. How great is that.
    These things may not mean a lot in the larger scheme but during this time, every little bit of help is so appreciated, gives us so much joy.

    Thank you Nora for sharing your insights and humour. You do us no end of good, even thousands of miles away on the other side of the world.

    1. Hi Maureen
      Thank you so much for the Canadian update and lovely comment. Yes, very similar here in Victoria..the big news is that this week we can play golf and go fishing! The national parks have opened for day hikes and we can have 5 people in our home. There’s a cautious, quiet sense of optimism. Great to hear your voice from the other side of the world..xx

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