Signs of a Pandemic

Depending on where you live, you’ve probably been in lockdown for two or three months, and have learned the new normal of social distancing.  Some experts say we should be in lockdown indefinitely until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, while others want to override that caution due to the practicalities of family and paying the bills (and concern over civil liberties). In an attempt to strike a balance, society has started the tentative and incremental return to “normal”.


Mid-March 2020 – checking out at the grocery store took an hour, with no social distancing


Bare shelves in the pasta, paper products, and baking aisles

During this whole experience, I’ve been intrigued to see how signage has evolved in response to the situation. In mid-March my husband and I shopped together at our local grocery store. I think we got the very last shopping cart available, and soon discovered that the pasta, paper product, and baking aisles were bare (as though locusts had swept through). We waited for an hour to check out, with all of us shoppers crammed in line with our baskets and others who attempted to shop around us.


Signage for one-way traffic flow, and social distancing for check out

It didn’t take long for essential business and stores to respond to the new situation, with a whole host of guidelines and practices. Small batches of shoppers were allowed into the store at one time, one-way aisles were implemented, some products were rationed or only available at the Service counter. Signs were used to convey information to customers about what was expected, for both crowd control and health.


Friendly reminder to practice social distancing


Visual representation of what social distancing looks like in the check-out aisle

Signs can be an important vehicle of information, and an important part of our lives. A good sign is straightforward and easy to read.

Wash Your Hands (Part 2)

We’re several weeks into the new normal, depending on how it came down for you. Here in California, Governor Gavin Newsom declared an official State of Emergency, which requires that everyone shelter in place. We’re not alone. The whole country, even the whole world, is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Collectively and individually we’re coming to terms with the reality of sheltering in place for an extended period of time.

By now you probably know what’s in your pantry and freezer, what is being hoarded and in short supply, how to work from home full time if possible (or how to survive if not), how to entertain and home-school kids that are cooped up with you, and ways to stay sane and get some exercise. So far there is no vaccine, but we can wash our hands thoroughly and often. This sign at a Kaiser Permanente restroom tells and shows you how (for more hand-washing signs, see Wash Your Hands).


This sign at Kaiser Permanente is very informative (and timely)!

One of the best things about this experience is seeing how creative folks can be. One co-worker built a standing desk for his laptop and screen. Another, who lives alone, is looking for a fish tank video on YouTube to provide restful company. Bloggers offer suggestions for coping with shortages (including alternatives to toilet paper). Some folks are using video conferencing software (such as Zoom) to meet electronically with friends, family, and groups. Grocery stores offer time slots for Seniors to shop for supplies. Churches are streaming service alternatives online. Stay safe, everyone, and find a way to stay connected. And don’t forget to wash your hands!

Wash Your Hands

Public signs are used everywhere to appeal to our consumerism, guide us to our destination, inform us of historical or interesting information, establish place. You name it. They are also used to instruct us. I’m always intrigued when I’m out and about to see the format of signs, and evaluate how effective they are at reaching their audience.

Did you wash your hands?

On road trips, we’re frequently in restaurants, gas stations, rest stops, hotels, and other public places. A frequent sign we see are the “wash your hands” signs that are often pasted to the mirror in the rest rooms. They typically layout the basics of when and how to wash your hands, and are sometimes in several languages (along Interstate 5, the second language is often Spanish, but that varies depending on the location).

Wash your hands or else!

The signs are sometimes humourous or fit the decor or ambiance of the location (like this Western style sign that appears in a restaurant with a logging theme). I’m not sure if their intended audience (presumably the establishment’s own workers) actually read these signs, but it might serve as a reminder, and can be comforting to the secondary audience, the patrons, to know that cleanliness is a value in the establishment. Keep on the lookout for variations on the “wash your hands” sign.