And good luck finding a thermometer. Amid the growing concern over the coronavirus, the stock had been cleaned well over a week ago. At first, the pharmacist sent folks over to the Dollar General, but then she’d heard they were out, too.
“I tried to order them, but they’re just gone,” she said, apologetically.
Up and down the aisles, people shook their heads at the strange scene in a community distant enough to be spared the drama of places like Tucson or Phoenix. This was the place where people came to escape, a small town surrounded by even smaller ones where social distancing was kind of the point.
But all through town, things felt eerie. Restaurants and businesses that were never closed were dark and empty. The dining room at the McDonald’s was closed. As shoppers drove into the Safeway parking lot, they passed a panhandler who waved a sign that simply read, “WTF?”
When a Safeway cashier in a medical mask held up the check-out line to wipe down the register area with disinfectant, tensions boiled over. “I mean, this is crazy!” a man said loudly. He ignored fliers posted at the lanes that urged customers to stay at least two shopping carts away from others in the store, inching uncomfortably close to two women ahead of him in line. “This is just too much!” he said.
The man claimed he knew someone in Florida who had been diagnosed with coronavirus. “They just took a lot of vitamin C, and they were fine,” he said.
The young women working the check-out lane nodded, as if she had heard a rant like this before. “Look, I am pregnant,” she said gently. “I just want to be careful.”
The man threw his hands in the air. “Oh, I’m not talking about you,” he insisted. “I’m just saying that this is crazy. … It’s not going to be a thing here.”
At the front of the line, Alexis Nomides, 69, eyed the man but said nothing as she quickly loaded several plastic bags of groceries in her cart and rolled out to the parking lot. “I am really scared about all of this,” she said, standing next to her white pickup truck.
People think coronavirus can’t happen in a town like this, but she knew better. For three weeks, she and her wife, Joany, had been self-quarantined in their home in nearby Pearce, an even smaller town about a half-hour away in the shadow of the Dragoon Mountains.
Last month, the couple had been on a 15-day Princess Cruise to Hawaii — the same route later taken by the Grand Princess, which was later routed to Oakland, Calif., after nearly a dozen passengers were stricken with coronavirus. “We were on the last cruise before they started quarantining,” Nomides said.
While she knows of no one diagnosed with the disease on her ship, something was going around. When someone at a communal table began coughing at dinner one night, she and her wife began to isolate, asking for tables for two and avoiding all the ship activities, including entertainment and onshore group tours.
“We had a balcony room, and we just kept to ourselves,” she said.
But the women were acutely aware of the spread of coronavirus, reading about it in the news. And when they arrived back in Arizona on Feb. 27, they immediately sheltered at their home to be safe, long before federal guidelines said anything about self-quarantine. “It’s just common sense,” Nomides said.
Her sister is in a nursing home, and one of their closest friends recently got out of the hospital. The couple have avoided both, even though they’ve exhibited no signs of coronavirus. And Nomides likely wouldn’t have left the house had they not needed to restock food and supplies.
“I’m taking my chances just coming out here today,” she said. Though she’s healthy, she’s more vulnerable to infection because of her age, and her wife, who is 80, has diabetes, putting her especially at risk. “If someone is going to get sick, it’s people like us,” she said. “But you have to catch up on things. I have plenty of toilet paper, but it’s the other stuff you need.”
On her list was cottage cheese, but it was all gone. “Who eats cottage cheese?” she said incredulously. “Who makes a run on cottage cheese?” So were the chicken wings. But she bought several bottles of orange-mango Sparkling Ice for her wife.
She had washed her hands and had hand sanitizer in the car. But she wasn’t taking any risks. At home, she planned to immediately take a shower before coming into contact with her wife. “My biggest fear is her getting sick,” she said.
Across the parking lot, a police car had pulled up. An officer stepped out and began to talk to the panhandler, who quickly put down his sign. But nearby someone had hung up another sign asking for help with “provisions” that were sold out.
With a wary smile, Nomides loaded the last of her bags inside her truck. “I’m almost 70, and I have never seen anything like this in my entire life,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, there’s Ebola. There’s this, there’s that.’ But nothing has ever closed down businesses and stuff. … This is bad. This is really bad.”