Navigating the grocery store when a virus looms

Navigating the grocery store when a virus looms

A physician offers her step-by-step tips for staying safe while shopping

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As we practice social distancing and the economy slows down, many of us have resorted to entertaining ourselves at home and getting by through online shopping. But as grocery delivery and pickup slots become harder to find, here’s what you need to know about heading to the grocery store amid the pandemic.

Ideally, only one member of your household is going to the grocery store consistently. Remember, if you are ill, do not leave your house and do not expose yourself to others. Once you’ve decided who that will be, put together some protective equipment for the individual. Optimal equipment would include a face mask, gloves, disinfectant wipes and two paper bags — one for the mask, which can be cleaned and reused, one for the disposal of gloves and wipes.

Plan carefully before you go. Note that some stores have special hours for seniors and healthcare workers. Make a grocery list, on paper, as your phone collects bacteria easily.

When you arrive at the store, before getting out of the car, put on your gloves and the mask. As always, remember social distancing of greater than six feet. Even if you run into someone you know, don’t socialize with anyone. Stores are very conscious of this and are actually limiting the amount of people going into the store. Occasionally, you’ll have to wait – sometimes up to an hour — to go into certain popular stores. Wipe down your shopping cart with disinfectant wipes.

Once you’re there, consult your list — which, again, should be on paper — and only get what you need to get. Perusing the aisles will put you at more risk.

At most grocery stores, guards have been stalled around cashiers to limit contact between them and you. If you can, check out in the self-check-out area, so you are the only one touching your items, and place them immediately into a bag. Mobile and cashless payments are ideal, as you won’t have to handle cash.

When you head to your car, open the trunk door and place all the groceries inside the vehicle. Go to your driver-side door, and open the door. Sitting inside your car, remove your gloves and place them in one of your paper bags. Remove your mask and place it in the other. Use your remaining disinfectant wipes to wipe down the door and your steering wheel. When you’re finished, toss them in the bag with the gloves for disposal.

At home, consider setting up a table in the garage where you can sanitize your groceries. Perishable things can be wiped down and placed in the fridge; fruits and vegetables should be washed, and then placed in the fridge. The Food and Drug Administration advises that there is “no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.” But to be highly cautious, some experts recommend “quarantining” your groceries, not touching them for three days before bringing them into the house.

In this cooler weather, I’ve left my coat in the garage as well. Your shoes, too, should probably not go in the house. Remember to wipe down handles and doorknobs with disinfectant wipes as you head inside. As soon as you’re inside, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Breathe, and remember: we’ll get through this.

Dr. Geetika Gupta is an emergency medicine specialist on clinical faculty at the University of Michigan and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.

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