Staying at home as much as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic is the best way to keep safe during this difficult time, but inevitably we will need to leave the house at some point. The mundane act of going to pick up groceries has now become a likely source of stress for those who are scared of contracting the virus, but there are ways you can reduce your risk in such a public space.
Your risk of contracting a virus is increased the more viral particles you are exposed to and you can come into contact with them by breathing airborne particles or touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. People infected with and recovering from Covid-19 shed these viral particles (you get super shedders and super spreaders in disease outbreaks) but as some people can have mild or no symptoms, you can’t tell who might be contagious.
Keeping the recommended 2 meters apart from any person will protect you as, if they cough, larger, more contagious drops containing a higher number of viral particles will land on close surfaces whereas only small drops with fewer particles can travel any distance.
While you might not breathe in the more contagious drops you can still be at risk from them if they land on surfaces that you then touch. Higher risk points in a supermarket will be products on the shelves, shopping carts, baskets, self-checkout screens, and chip and pin machines. The SARS-CoV-2 pathogen that causes Covid-19 can survive on cardboard for one day and up to three days on stainless steel and plastic, meaning even if you’re the first in the store that day you’re not completely safe from surface pathogens.
However, this needn’t be a source of fear as there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the risks of shopping.
Mind your hands
Avoid touching your face after you’ve handled anything in the supermarket and only pick up items you intend to buy to protect yourself and others. If you prefer to wear a mask and gloves make sure you pop them on before you go inside the store and put them in a bin once you leave.
The virus can be killed by wiping down surfaces using disinfectants (but please, don’t inject them) so you can take surface cleaning wipes to the shops with you to quickly disinfect cart and basket handles. If you have a bank card it’s best to use this instead of cash and use contactless payment where possible as chip and pin and self-service machines will be a hot spot for viral particles. If you’re driving home, use a 60-95 percent alcohol gel to clean your hands before touching the handles/steering wheel.
Fewer trips to the shops mean less exposure to other people and potentially contaminated surfaces. Make a shopping list before you go, ideally in an order that means you can work sequentially through the store layout and not have to keep popping back to other aisles, to reduce the time spent inside. If you end up with too much food, you can freeze it to prevent food waste but check the packaging first to make sure it’s suitable for freezing.
Once you get home
First thing first, wash your hands. It’s unlikely that the items you bring home will have viral particles on them, but for peace of mind you can remove any outer packaging and wipe down product surfaces with a disinfectant wipe. Wash fresh produce with water as you always should, and be careful using any cleaning products on food items as a spike in inventive detergent use has led to a 20 percent spike in accident-related calls to Poison Control this year.
By understanding how the virus spreads you’re best equipped to protect yourself when out in public. Making just a few simple changes to how you shop can ease any shopping anxiety you might be feeling, while also making the experience safer for others as well as yourself.
[H/T: The Conversation]