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COVID-19 Q&A with Dr. Ken Kirton on Navigating Retail Shopping

4/24/20
Our local businesses have worked hard over the last few weeks to implement new processes to protect the health and safety of the public and their employees while continuing to provide essential goods, services and employment for our community. This week Ken Kirton, MD, Chief of Medical Staff at Freeman Regional Health Services responded to questions on how to navigate retail shopping in the current COVID-19 situation.
 
What advice do you have for shoppers?
Remember that knowledge of the virus that causes the disease can help us make informed decisions. Recall that the virus that causes COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that is easily spread through air and by hand to viral contaminated surface to face. The further away a non-infected person is from the air space around an infected person, the lower the chance for virus transfer. However, this virus has high infection rates that may occur with limited exposure. Symptoms range from asymptomatic shedding of virus, to cold symptoms, to fevers and aching, cough, trouble breathing and occasionally weakness. A high percentage of individuals who contract the virus have the potential for developing a serious illness that carries a higher death/mortality rate.
  
Is it safe to go to the store?
The answer to this question is constantly evolving. Governmental officials have the authority to determine the level of business or commerce that is allowed based on safety and the public good. The potential risk associated with shopping will vary from individual to individual. The risk will also depend on the virus prevalence in a particular community, which will change over time. There are measures that each of us can utilize to make it less likely to contract the COVID-19 virus when shopping. They will also make it less likely for you to spread the virus to others who are trying to continue to provide you with needed goods and services.
 
What information should I consider when I plan to go shopping?
Remember that the virus is spread when you come in contact with the airspace of a person who is shedding the virus or when your hand touches a contaminated surface then your face. Reducing the time you spend in a space will reduce your potential for exposure: create lists, target shop, select the time of day based on store busyness, combine trips to decrease the frequency of shopping trips and consider curbside or delivery transactions. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath) or you have been diagnosed or had recent contact with someone testing positive, then use curbside or home delivery and seek medical advice on when you may go out in the general public.
 
What steps should I take when buying essential supplies?
The major source of virus would be from the package surface; however, the virus does not jump from a surface to your nose. You can lower your chance of exposure by limiting handling of items on shelves to just items that you are going to purchase. Space and time are your friend. Keeping at least six feet of distance reduces your exposure to the airspace of others. Think of this space when in aisles and in the check-out line. Measures that reduce the likelihood of your hand touching an infected surface and limit bringing your hand to your face are the most effective at decreasing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
 
Should I wear gloves and a mask when I shop?
They can decrease spread but when used improperly can serve as a source of contamination and give a false sense for a lower need for hand hygiene. Masks reduce the amount of virus an infected person puts into the air. They also block your hand from touching your nose and slightly decrease the amount of virus you might breath in. However, they are only effective if taken on and off in a way that prevents contaminating your hands prior to touching your face. Face shields lessen the likelihood of virus spread when someone coughs towards you or comes close to your face. Gloves limit the contamination of the surface of your hands, but the surface of the glove can become contaminated when you touch a surface with virus particles. 
 
What is the safest way to pay?
The safest way to pay is through electronic transactions or alternatively establish a prepaid account at the store. The safest transactions will have the least direct touching of surfaces by multiple parties. If paying by checks or cash, remember that COVID-19 virus could be present on the surface for several days so handle them following good hand hygiene principles.
 
Should I shower or change clothes after shopping?
It is generally not felt to be needed unless your time has been spent in crowds, you were in close quarters with a lack of social distancing, or if you were sneezed or coughed on.
 
Should I disinfect my groceries or other items?
Wiping down the surface of packages with sanitizing wipes can provide you additional protection or you could allow non-perishable items to sit for several days. Ensure that you use good hand hygiene techniques after handling products.
 
Will freezing food kill the virus? 
The source of COVID-19 viral spread from these items is likely contamination of the package surface. Food that has been appropriately cooked or frozen is felt to be safe.
 
What precautions should I take when going to garden centers?
Bedding plants and flowers are safe as long as they have not had their container surface contaminated. You could allow these items to sit for several days prior to handling to further ensure safety.
 
How do I mix my own disinfectant if the store is out of wipes?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html has specific instructions on making disinfectant. Most sanitizing products require either rubbing alcohol or bleach.