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By Cierra Coppock

As Whatcom County residents begin to self-quarantine COVID-19 outbreak, delivery services are bustling.

In China, where the novel coronavirus first emerged, delivery services have been described as the heroes of the successful quarantine that provided a means for local businesses to continue operating without in-store customers. 

Jimmy John’s, popular for its speedy delivery service, has seen virtually no shift in business. 

Carsten Sabee, a delivery driver for Jimmy Johns, said, “Nothing really has changed. We just put up signs saying ‘wash your hands.’"  

Although researchers report that the novel coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, can live on surfaces for many hours or even days, the Food and Drug Administration has not yet seen any cases of COVID-19 transfer through food or food packaging. 

Limited testing across the United States has resulted in limited data about asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. Hand washing, particularly after touching surfaces that others have touched, is considered the first line of prevention by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the age of social distancing, the food delivery service Postmates offers a “no contact delivery service” that allows customers to opt-in for a drop-off option instead. Instacart, DoorDash, Viking Foods and other local delivery services allow users to make notes for their delivery providers about how they would prefer to receive their meals. On Monday, UberEats announced that it would waive delivery fees for independent, local restaurants.

Food delivery services may be the unexpected beneficiaries of a statewide ban on in-store service in restaurants, announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday. Take-out is still permitted.

On Thursday, Bellingham-grown delivery service Viking Foods encouraged employees of affected restaurants to apply for delivery jobs: "Any person whose employment has been affected due to the virus will be given priority consideration," the owners wrote in a Facebook post that outlined their healthy and hygiene practices.

The r/Bellingham subreddit also offered a list of restaurants that remain open for takeout and delivery, and need support.

Grocery deliveries are also seeing a boom. In Bellingham, some grocery delivery companies, like Instacart, have seen an increase in business, said Juan Pereg, a support member for the company.

“We are running out of stock on items like face masks, hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes," Pereg said. 

The first diagnosed case of COVID-19 in Whatcom County was announced on March 11, and cases have begun to emerge on a daily basis, including the first Western student diagnosis on Monday. Even before its appearance in the community, people around the county were considering if it were  wise to go to groceries stores and posting questions about supplies and hoarding to a local subReddit, r/Bellingham, where community news is distributed and discussed. 

But, while deliveries are up, a mild panic among the public is driving sales down in stores. The Target in the Bellis Fair Mall is seeing a decline in in-store sales, but a rise in drive through pick-up, according to Rebecca Newkirk, a human resources employee at Bellingham’s Target. 

“We are out of so many things, so many ridiculous things, Clorox wipes. No one is buying soap; we are not out of soap, which is the funniest thing,” Newkirk said.  “We're out of hand sanitizer and a lot of alcohol and the other ingredients, like peroxide, that you need to make your own hand sanitizer. People are buying all the toilet paper and paper towels. It's ridiculous.”

Public health officials are encouraging people to wash their hands with soap and hot water, scrubbing for a minimum of 20 seconds -- an effort that has been aided by Internet campaigns and tools like “Wash Your Lyrics,” a website that offers a guide to proper handwashing technique set to the lyrics of the user’s favorite songs.

Local politicians, including members of the Whatcom County Council, have urged their neighbors to stop hoarding, which disrupts supply chains and puts vulnerable people at risk when they cannot access basic home-health supplies.

Rite Aid is also under pressure from COVID-19 according to Michelle Gillies, a supervisor at the Sehome Village Rite Aid. 

“I put 10 bottles of hand sanitizer on the shelf last week and it was gone in 10 minutes,” Gillies said. 

While companies like Target and Rite Aid are feeling the effects of this outbreak, other businesses are seeing no change. 

For now, community members report only minor disruptions, and grocery stores remain open to customers, but for those curious about what two months of quarantine might look like if hoarding continues, the City of Bellingham has preemptively laid out guidelines in their Emergency Management Plan. According to the plan, the mayor may invoke control over local resources including fuel, food and shelter.

Aedan Scanlon, Emma Toscani and Conor Wilson contributed reporting.

Follow The Western Front on Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates. Our full coverage of how the novel coronavirus is affecting Whatcom County is here.

If you're interested in contributing to the Front's reporting during this crisis, you are invited to participate in our open newsroom project, where experienced reporters and editors will work alongside the community to gather and verify information that leads Whatcom County toward shared solutions. To participate, please fill out this form.

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