Is it safe to go into supermarkets amid the coronavirus outbreak?

By | April 6, 2020

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Most businesses remain closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but supermarkets have been considered essential businesses for good reason.

Supermarkets throughout the U.S. have implemented safety measures during the pandemic, but some officials have recommended cutting back on shopping these over the next couple of weeks.


“The next two weeks are extraordinarily important,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx said at a press conference on Saturday, according to the New York Post. “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe.”

So is it safe to go into supermarkets amid the coronavirus outbreak?

While supermarkets aren’t the safest place to go right now because of social distancing concerns, there are ways to keep customers as safe as possible when traveling to stock up on the necessary amount of food or supplies.

Fox News contributor Dr. Marc Siegel said on Tuesday that he prefers constant hand sanitizing over wearing gloves during supermarket trips.

“Gloves accumulate germs, gloves accumulate viruses,” Siegel told “Fox & Friends,” responding to a viewer’s question on whether wearing gloves at the grocery store is necessary.

“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 explained.

Siegel says that washing your hands thoroughly is the best way to disinfect after making certain necessary trips to supermarkets. He added that if you do wear gloves, take them off without touching the outside with your bare hands.

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Those precautions come after 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 new study in the New England Journal of Medicine last month also suggested that people may get the virus “after touching contaminated objects.”

“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.

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, although Siegel cautioned the virus can live on frozen and refrigerated food containers even more effectively than on produce.

While continued washing hands is his method to avoid spreading the virus after touching surfaces, there’s still the problem of getting it from other people in close proximity.

“The biggest risk factor is really being around other people,” Benjamin Chapman, a professor of food safety at North Carolina State University told the Wall Street Journal.

One way to prevent community-based transmission of the virus is to wear cloth face coverings in public settings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency has previously stated the virus can develop in people without symptoms being present, which means it can spread by people interacting in close proximity through respiratory droplets in the air. This includes speaking, coughing or sneezing — even if that person doesn’t have a fever or is not showing symptoms.

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“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.

Some supermarkets have begun helping those more vulnerable within their doors by implementing certain shopper hours for elderly people. Although those over 65 are now advised to stay away from the stores and ask those around them to do the shopping, according to the paper.

For those under the age of 65, it’s important to avoid stores during those hours to protect those more vulnerable. If you aren’t aware of those special procedures you should contact your store’s website or call ahead.

Walmart, Kroger, and other supermarkets have also installed plexiglass shields to help protect workers dealing with thousands of people each day, as well as the public.

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 6 feet away from the person in front of you at the checkout line.

She said to bring an alcohol-based sanitizer to the supermarket along with some disinfectant wipes, if available.


“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.”

Sauer also said to bring an alcohol-based sanitizer to the supermarket along with some disinfectant wipes if you have one available.

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A typical grocery cart is about 3 feet long, which means two carts would equal the 6 feet social distancing recommendation by the CDC, according to the California Grocers Association (CGA) — which released its “Top 10 Tips for Safe Shopping” last Wednesday.

The association recommends only going to the grocery store when it’s essential and buying what you need for at least a week to help prevent people from making unnecessary trips.

The CGA also says to “inspect produce with your eyes, not your hands,” and to not bring additional people during trips if possible.

That belief was echoed with Costco, which announced it was changing membership policy to control how many people are in the warehouse at one time.

Starting April 3, only one guest is now allowed per each member.

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.

However, as Siegel said, you should mainly focus on washing your hands. He added that fresh produce should be washed even more thoroughly once it’s in your house.


“Convenient and safe access to food and essential products at local grocery stores is more critical than ever during these uncertain times,” said CGA President and CEO Ron Fong.

Fox News’ Joshua Nelson and Alexandra Deabler contributed to this report

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