Is It Wrong To Order Non-Essential Items During The Coronavirus Pandemic?


While there might be nothing explicitly stopping you from going about your usual online shopping routine during stay-home orders and isolation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the question remains: should you?

We know that delivery services are busy shuttling food, medicine and other essential supplies around the world. People who are quarantined or self-isolating due to a particular vulnerability to COVID-19 are most likely relying on these deliveries while they're homebound.

So whether you're browsing for shirts to add to your video conference wardrobe rotation, junk food to add to your quarantine waistline or games to distract you from a desire for sunlight, fresh air and genuine human contact, you won't have much luck getting those items at brick-and-mortar stores these day. Those are mostly closed throughout in the United States.

That makes online shopping the only option for most of us. And many among us are wondering if buying stuff we don't actually need makes us bad people.

Business ethicists Andrew Crane and Dirk Matten note (via The Conversation) that the questions about commerce during a crisis are multifaceted.

One one hand, continuing your usual shopping habits during the crisis means you're helping to support a sputtering economy. That mitigates the financial disaster at hand by reinforcing the livelihoods of all the people down the line who benefit from your dollar.

Considering the number of Americans who will become uninsured if they become unemployed, there's an argument to be made that it's better to be sick and employed than sick and jobless, therefore, any money you can spare to spend, should be spent.

On the other hand, while most retailers say they are taking additional steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees, it's abundantly clear that community spread from the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is hard to prevent. Total workplace safety is impossible to guarantee, and the idea of putting a parcel worker at risk for a non-essential delivery should make us uneasy.

To those of us wondering if packaging itself could be contaminated with the virus, the World Health Organization says the risk of an infected person contaminating goods is low and the risk of catching the virus from packaging is also low.

Various parties, including provincial and local governments around the world, and retailers and labor unions across multiple industries have spoken up on the issue. But those different entities have landed on different sides. If there's a particular industry in which you have a stake, consider researching how the pandemic is impacting it.

Infectious disease experts have offered various models of how prevalent coronavirus infections could be in America before a vaccine is ready — few of those predictions are encouraging.

There is a middle ground on some platforms designed to allay concerns. Retailers like Amazon are prioritizing essential deliveries and customers can select a 'no-rush' option that gives parcel services the OK to take extra time to arrange non-essential deliveries to minimize risk for delivery drivers.

These are all things to consider next time you look into treating your COVID anxiety with retail therapy. You can take heart in the sentiment that thinking about this at all indicates you're a good person.

But for now, the choice to buy is only yours.

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