ORLANDO, Fla. – Several local grocers have set aside their early morning hours to allow seniors -- who are most at risk of contracting COVID-19 -- to shop without the big crowds but News 6 has discovered that younger residents are going to the stores at that time as well.
For Publix, senior hours are from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Winn-Dixie does its senior hours Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. while Walmart has reserved 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. for the elderly.
At the Winn-Dixie in East Orange County’s Waterford Lakes community, several young people were seen walking into the store during senior hours.
The same thing happened at Publix on University Boulevard in Orlando.
When questioned, most of the younger shoppers said it wasn't intentional, they just didn't know about the specialized hours.
But some seniors, who are self-quarantining themselves and trying to stay away from younger people to minimize the risk of contracting coronavirus, said it scares them.
"I don't think they're aware of the danger," one senior shopper said.
Another senior said younger shoppers who don’t respect the designated shopping hour are putting seniors at risk.
“I don’t think they understand the severity of this,” the senior said. “We have a grandson at home who has a breathing problem, if we pick this up -- we come around prepared, hand sanitizer, we have wipes. We’re just trying to protect everybody. Kids should have some respect for the elderly.”
Publix said the senior shopping hours were meant to be a community service and is now making adjustments.
“While the CDC’s guidance recommends older adults stay home, we understand the need for essential grocery needs,” a spokesperson said. “To better assist our elder communities, we designated an hour before we open to the general public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to allow these customers to shop from 7 - 8 a.m. As we continue monitoring the evolving circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are making necessary adjustments to our operations and policies to better serve our customers. Unfortunately, with the growing complexity of this situation, this is not always an easy task.”
Winn Dixie said it will not use "extreme measures" to enforce the special hours.
"We hope all community members are familiar with the high-risk profiles set by the CDC and we ask shoppers to be respectful of this time designated for those who need it most. While it is not our policy to use extreme measures nor make assumptions about the health of each customer, we are continuing to ask shoppers to be good neighbors and allow the most vulnerable in our communities the comfort of purchasing their grocery essentials in a safe environment."
Walmart did not respond to a News 6 request for comment.