In this time and age, a simple trip to the grocery store can feel like a dangerous mission into the unknown. And that gave Mona Arora an idea.
The instructor at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health realized back in April that she was going to multiple markets to find what she needed for the week. Were her elderly parents doing the same? How many people in her community were flying blind and exposing themselves to dangerous risks, just to get their groceries?
This kind of situation is not good from a public health perspective, so naturally, Arora came up with a plan to fix it: Tucson needed a database where you could look up the safety procedures at your favorite market. Do they ask their employees and customers to wear masks? Do they have reserved shopping hours for seniors? Can you opt for delivery or curbside pickup?
"How can we make sure that customers and the public have easy access to that information?" she says. "They don't have a platform to go to."
But now they do, thanks to a month and a half of research and development by Arora and a team of eight students at the College of Public Health. You can find the Tucson Restaurant and Grocery Guide on our website. It's a collaboration project between the College of Public Health, #ThisIsTucson and Samantha Munsey at the Arizona Daily Star’s Digital Innovation Lab. As far as Arora knows, this database is the first of its kind in the U.S.
Search Tucson, Arizona grocery stores, markets and restaurants such as curbside pickup, senior shopping hours, delivery and whether employees or customers are required to wear face masks.
This evolving list features 73 local businesses as of the publishing of this article, and will continue to expand as the project moves ahead over the summer. This initial round of data focuses on small, independent markets provided by yours truly, as well as restaurants in various #ThisIsTucson guides. You can search for businesses through a number of filters including name, zip code, those with senior hours, those that require face masks, those that offer delivery and more.
The team is currently working on adding local chains and larger supermarkets as well as more restaurants. Arora says she hopes to have her team upload a new data set every week with more and updated information. Business owners can also fill out their own form at the college's website, and have their data entered into the system. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reach out.
To compile the information, Arora had her team of students call each grocery store two to three times until they got the information they needed. Each student was assigned 20 stores, and would read managers a script with information points so they could compile everything into a Google document. The team was also headed up by Dr. Kathleen Walker in the Department of Entomology and Brianna Catherine Rooney, a College of Public Health graduate student. Together, they call themselves the Path Forward BizGuide for Public Health.
Arora wants to stress that the guide is not comprehensive as yet, and that's not due to a lack of effort on their part. Many of the businesses that they called did not want to provide information, or worse yet, could not be reached. And as dining rooms across the city open up for business, the team wanted to give restaurants a grace period to figure out what all their safety measures will be. Because this is stressful on them, too.
"The last thing anybody wants to do is go into a restaurant and not be served because they didn't have their face mask," she says. "The more information we have, the better prepared we are. You hear about situations where a customer got angry because their order was late. We want to help people understand the parameters that our society has to operate under right now."