Editor's note: Is it safe to get back to the life you knew? As services come back, we’re asking our doctors and other providers to help answer those questions in a series called Navigating COVID: Back to life. You’ll find those stories, and many others, here. Got a question? Email [email protected].
Americans love to shop.
In fact, before COVID-19 one recent survey showed that Americans spend an average of $18,000 a year on nonessential items.
And as stay-at-home restrictions begin to lift, it’s expected that more people will begin to venture out to the grocery store and shopping mall once again.
Dr. Carmen Robinson of Novant Health Clemmons Family Medicine offers advice on how those shoppers can shop safely.
Q: Is it safe to go shopping again?
It’s true that North Carolina has started a phased reopening process. But it’s also important to remember that the coronavirus does not work on our timetable. In terms of shopping, I would only leave the house for essential items and as much as you can, continue to stay home to help flatten the curve.
Q: Do I need to wear a mask and gloves in the store?
When you are in a store, it is important to wear a cloth mask. The mask is not so much to protect the wearer, but to prevent transmission and to protect those around you, considering that we may all be asymptomatic carriers.
You don’t need to wear gloves. In fact, some studies show that glove wearing can create a false sense of security and it’s better to practice frequent handwashing. Lastly, please remember to avoid touching your face.
Q: Can the family come to the store with me?
Please don’t make going to the store a family outing. When possible, send only one family member inside and remember to wear a mask and practice social distancing.
If you need to bring your baby with you, disinfect the cart. Or, consider using a cart cover. Babies are very oral and you want to protect them from touching things and then putting their hands in their mouths. Remember that babies under 2 years old should not wear a mask.
For seniors, I’d recommend planning your shopping trip during the early morning nonbusy hours. I’d also suggest to go only once a week so they can safely practice social distancing the rest of the week.
Q: Should I disinfect my food before bringing it in the house?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that there is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. But for me, common sense prevails. I would recommend as an extra precaution that you wipe down all nonporous items before putting them away. And obviously, continue to wash produce.
Q: If I order online do I need to let the groceries/packages quarantine on my front porch?
I wouldn’t leave perishable items on the front step. You can take those items inside and disinfect them right away. But for nonperishable items, you can leave items on the porch to quarantine. Studies vary on the length of time, but four hours is generally an acceptable amount of time. I would still wipe down and clean these items before putting them away.
Q: Can I try on clothes and use the fitting room?
We all want to be informed shoppers. So yes, you can still try on clothes or shoes to make sure they are going to fit. But what is important to remember is that you should not touch your face again until you wash your hands. This goes for shopping in general. Try to avoid touching items you don’t intend on purchasing, and then always wash your hands again as soon as possible.
Q: What if other people are in the store and they are not wearing a mask or social distancing?
If you see someone without a mask, remember that you can only control yourself. Don’t be confrontational. Remember you don’t know what frame of mind that person is in, so it is best to maintain space and be courteous and kind.
Q: Is there a safe way to pay at the register?
If you can avoid cash, do that. If you can avoid passing your credit card, that’s good too. Some smartphone apps now actually let you pay without having to exchange anything at all. But if you don’t have that option, try to use the chip reader with your debit/credit card or give exact change as much as possible. Then wash your hands.
Q: Do I need to clean or disinfect the clothes I have on before reentering the house after a shopping trip?
In general, it’s a good idea to not wear shoes in your living spaces. I’d recommend leaving them in the garage or at the front door to prevent tracking anything outside into your home. I also would recommend changing out of your street clothes before laying down on the couch or getting into bed.