Coronavirus: How to stay safe during grocery store visits

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With at least 42 states issuing stay at home orders for residents in the U.S., grocery stores remain one of the few places Americans can still go and be near large groups of people amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Because of that, they are one of the few hotspots that remain a cause of concerns in terms of social distancing, especially in its tight aisles.

So what can you do to stay safe during grocery store visits?

While scientists have proven that you can get COVID-19 from surfaces, the most likely way you will contract the virus during trips to the supermarket will be from another infected person shopping inside.

What can you do to stay safe during grocery store visits?

What can you do to stay safe during grocery store visits?
(iStock)

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“While it is possible to contract the virus [from contaminated surfaces], the majority of transmission is probably going to be from respiratory droplets, which you’re exposed to when you’re around other people,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health told NPR.

She added that washing your hands thoroughly would leave your risk “very, very low” after touching certain objects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has agreed the main way the virus can spread is from person to person interacting in close proximity through respiratory droplets in the air. This includes speaking, coughing or sneezing — even if that individual doesn’t have a fever or is not showing symptoms.

That’s why the agency has recommended staying six feet away from other people and the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised keeping three feet of distance. A typical grocery cart is about three feet long, which means two carts would equal the six feet social distancing recommendation by the CDC.

“In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission,” the agency said on its website.

The agency doesn’t recommend wearing the N95 respirator masks or surgical masks, which should be devoted to health care workers already strained on resources while fighting on the front lines.

Other experts say to limit visits to the store. You should also have a plan or make a list before you go in so you can be as efficient as possible during trips.

“Be as efficient as possible in the store,” Donald Schaffner, a food microbiologist and distinguished professor at Rutgers University told the media organization. “Have a list. Move through the store quickly and efficiently. Get out of the way. Be respectful of other people. Maintain social distance while you’re in the store.”

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He added to look for stores that limit the number of people going inside. All stores are disinfecting before they open in the morning, so early hours could theoretically be the cleanest or the highest-trafficked for that reason. Other considerations include conflicts with certain elderly shopping hours devoted to people more vulnerable.

When inside, Lauren Sauer, director of operations for Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response, recommends staying away from busy aisles and making sure to stand six feet away from the person in front of you at the checkout line.

“When you’re walking through the store, the hardest part is passing people in the aisle,” Sauer told the USA Today. “Really avoid passing closely by people when you can.”

Dr. David Aronoff, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says to go to the store alone if possible.

“If you have three people living together and all three people go to the store, even if all three people have a low risk of getting infected at an individual level, as a group they’ve tripled their risk, essentially,” Aronoff told NPR.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said last month there is currently no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19.

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However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CDC, UCLA, and Princeton University scientists found the virus can remain infectious in droplets in the air for hours and surfaces for days.

“The scientists found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel,” according to the NIH.

Rachel Graham, a virologist who studies coronaviruses at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health says if your still worried about refrigerated goods packages — as the virus can live up to 24 hours on cardboard — she says to leave it out for that time period, according to NPR.

Graham added that freezing foods helps the virus stay alive longer, so she recommends taking it out of the packaging. It’s recommended to bring an alcohol-based sanitizer to the supermarket along with some disinfectant wipes, if available.

Fox News contributor Dr. Marc Siegel said he prefers constant hand sanitizing over wearing gloves during grocery trips.

“Gloves accumulate germs, gloves accumulate viruses,” Siegel told “Fox & Friends.”

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“You’re going to not even realize when you touch something then you have it on the gloves, then you transfer it to your face, then you can get infected.”

He says that fresh produce should be washed thoroughly once it’s in your house.

Benjamin Chapman, a professor of food safety at North Carolina State University told the Wall Street Journal he believes the best reason to bring wipes is to wipe down your grocery cart. They can also be used for high-risk areas in the store like refrigerator or freezer handles.

Even so, he added that “the biggest risk factor is really being around other people.”

California Grocers Association says to “inspect produce with your eyes, not your hands,” and to not bring additional people during trips if possible.

Other tips recommended by the association include not picking up items unless you plan to buy them, and if you use reusable bags, make sure to wash or disinfect them after each use.

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If you’re still worried about shopping in stores, ordering groceries online is also an option. Some online grocery delivery services include Instacart, Amazon Fresh, Shipt, Walmart, and Peapod.

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