I got a Costco membership on Wednesday, May 11, so my mother could get tested by their audiologist and get new hearing aids. As you’ll learn longer-form below, that trip was a bust. Now that Costco has ended its mask requirement, neither she nor I are keen about going there. While Costco was amenable to refunding the membership, the process was hostile to my mother, who was only a secondary user on the account and hence I don’t believe liable even for the annual fee.
And as someone who is now basically crippled due to having two hips badly in need of replacement, I also noticed the shortage of handicapped parking spaces and the dearth of crippled people go carts.1 I’m too proud to use one but now pay attention to their existence, as well as to how hard floors are (Costco has the worst, concrete. Even tarmac is less hard on the joints). There was no cart available, so I had to sit in the front of the store because it would have done me too much damage to hobble to the back, where the audiology department was. So my mother went with the aide and they called me as they encountered obstacles.
This Costco does have a go cart, apparently only one; during a 45 minute wait, I did see one trundle to the checkout. By contrast, the much smaller nearby Publix has two. And the Publix flooring isn’t as hard either. So this is also unfriendly to the elderly and infirm.
Now to the shaggy dog version of this tale. My mother and I went to Costco to attempt to get her hearing aids on Wednesday. Due to the Costco audiologist not having responded to multiple phone calls regarding whether they could/would remove my mother’s existing in-ear hearing aids (we brought the tool and the documentation says you can even remove them with tweezers2), the only thing that we got done was getting a Costco membership and having to get a Visa card because Costco takes only Visa. I wound up being the primary on the account because I had to get the Visa (my mother could not remember her full SSN) and my mother was secondary. We scheduled to come back the week after next, the first slot they had, to get the hearing exam and choose new hearing aids.
Two days after that date, Costco changed its policy to allow customers and employees in its stores not to wear masks. Neither of us are comfortable going back. My mother is not vaccinated yet (J&J just became available again) and even if I got her in early this week, she would not have a full two weeks before the Costco visit.3 Plus we have press and reader reports of “breakthrough” asymptomatic cases among the fully vaccinated. We also know from the UK that asymptomatic cases can infect others. Large scale studies by Imperial College found that elementary-age school kids are 2x as likely as adults to bring Covid into a household, and what we would call middle and high school children, 7x. We do not know yet if breakthrough cases are less infectious than other asymptomatic cases, but this seems like a reckless assumption in the absence of data….which the CDC has chosen not to gather.
The Costco phone rep had no problem with cancelling the membership and refunding the annual fee, but the process was unnecessarily difficult. After they verified me (account number, phone number, address, security word), they then insisted on speaking to my mother and having her read out her account number (the same as mine, so what was the point?) and her driver’s license number. Unlike her bank, Vanguard, and her long-term care insurer, they would not allow her to authorize me to speak on her behalf even after I and then she explained her hearing was poor and she could not read the small print on the card and her driver’s license without a magnifying glass. I even tried invoking the Americans With Disabilities Act, that they were refusing to give her an accommodation. No dice. So her aide had to get a magnifying glass and read the numbers to her that my mother then repeated to the Costco rep. My mother was upset after this exercise for herself and for the aide.
Part of Costo’s marketing strategy is to make middle/upper middle class not have to feel guilty about getting bargains because at Costco, the workers get good pay and benefits. That means the customer deals aren’t coming at the expense of employees. But now Costo has capitulated to the low standards of other wholesale-format stores by not protecting workers and insisting on continued customer masking.4
So much for Costco being the nicer big box store. In our brief dealings with them, we did not find that to be the case.
1 Flying in and out of Birmingham, I have noticed a higher ratio of wheelchair users to passengers than in New York or the West Coast. I wonder if the Southern diet generates more diabetics.
2 The reason I didn’t do it myself is I have terrible manual dexterity, tested at second percentile. And the reason for wanting to change from in-ear hearing aids to more conventional ones was hoping that over-the-ear ones might do a better job…..but the aide and I did some tests with my mother, like having me talk to her from the kitchen, and concluded she hears adequately with her current pair, she just doesn’t pay attention or strategically pretends not to hear. And she is the sort who would complain about any change, even if it were net better, about the negative parts, like not being able to hear when the hearing aids were removed when she went to bed.
3 There are other boundary conditions as to why pushing the appointment back would not work….her current hearing aids are on a “subscription” and we had wanted to assess her options before it expired. The new date, the earliest we could get, was literally late afternoon of the last day of her subscription.
And none of these vaccines have been assessed for efficacy on people over 85. The flu vaccine is a higher dose for patients over 65 because they have weaker immune system responses. Why should Covid vaccines be different, in terms of lower efficacy among the elderly? So while being vaccinated is a good idea, I think one has to still be vigilant re Covid risks for the elderly.
4 I suggest you reconsider the “let them eat vaccines” response. Vaccine uptake among hospital and nursing home workers was lagging as of March relative to what one would expect, particularly their employers. Anecdotally, one holdout group is reproduction-age women. There have been enough reports of women getting heavy and early periods after being vaccinated that there are efforts to study the syndrome. There is no evidence of any fertility impairment, but given a backdrop of declining fertility rates, many are unwilling to take a chance in the absence of better information.