• Some local governments in the US have barred "essential" stores, such as grocery chains or big-box retailers, from selling "nonessential" items such as clothing and toys.
  • These rules have provoked a strong reaction among consumers – while some are in favor, differing opinions over what counts as essential versus nonessential is creating confusion and irritation for others.
  • Ville Vuorinen, an assistant professor in Fluid Physics at Aalto University in Finland, who has been researching how infection can spread in a grocery store told Business Insider that these restrictions "make sense."
  • "If you reduce the time a person is in a supermarket by 50%, you reduce the amount of potentially viral aerosol [droplets] in the air by 50%. So, in that sense, it makes a lot of sense to me," he said. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The move to ban big-box and grocery stores in certain parts of the US from selling "nonessential" items such as clothing and toys has provoked a strong reaction among shoppers. 

While some have applauded these new rules, put in place by various local governments to curb the time that shoppers spend in stores and therefore prevent the spread of the coronavirus, others have criticized extra limits on their freedom and the idea that their governments should decide what is and what is not an essential purchase. 

Analysts have also weighed in on the debate. Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail described the policies as "plain dumb" and said that these local governments showed a "complete lack of understanding" for how retailers operate. 

Vermont and Michigan are among those to have rolled out such restrictions. Business Insider reached out to representatives from both states for more details on why they had implemented these new rules and whether the decision to do so was based on expert guidance.

Nate Formalarie, the communications director for the state of Vermont, said that the goal for them was to limit the time people spend in stores and the number of people congregating there to prevent infection. Instead, shoppers should purchase nonessential items online and opt for curbside pickup, he said. 

"We are grateful to the stores and retailers who are putting the health and safety of Vermonters first," he said.

A spokesperson for Michigan did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment. 

Ville Vuorinen, an assistant professor in Fluid Physics at Aalto University in Finland and who was part of the team that made a computer-simulated video showing how one cough from one person could spread particles across a grocery store, told Business Insider that these restrictions "make sense."

"If you reduce the time a person is in a supermarket by 50%, you reduce the amount of potentially viral aerosol [droplets] in the air by 50%. So, in that sense, it makes a lot of sense to me," he said in a recent telephone conversation with Business Insider. 

Vuorinen said that based on his team's research, it makes sense to reduce the time and frequency people spend at supermarkets to reduce aerosol formation in the air. 

He recommended shoppers eliminate unnecessary visits to stores and that only one family member shop each time to reduce the likelihood of catching the infection. 

He also said that stores should start to roll out new measures to keep the spread of infection at bay. These might include pre-weighing fruits into bags, increasing the number of cashiers to reduce lines and crowding, and being more open about how their ventilation systems are arranged and whether they are circulating the same air around the store. 

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