Health and Wellness

4 things you can do to stay safe if you have to run errands during the COVID-19 pandemic

@gigibunny | Twenty20

Americans are being urged to stay home from work, practice social distancing and steer clear of crowded places amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected at least 9,400 people in the United States, across all 50 states. 

The Centers for Disease Control's COVID-19 prevention guidelines include avoiding "discretionary" travel, shopping trips and social visits for at least 15 days. 

But what should you do if you have to run an essential errand, such as grocery shopping or visiting the pharmacy?

"You cannot get infected if your hands are clean before you touch your face, and if you don't breathe in air from somebody who's sick and coughing," Greg Poland, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic, tells CNBC Make It. "So as long as those two conditions exist you cannot catch this virus."

Here's how to keep yourself safe on an errand, according to the experts. 

Be strategic about the timing and execution of your trip

First, take an inventory of what you need at the drug store, grocery store, gas station, etc. That way you can "do as much as you can while you're out, so you don't have to go back [to the store] several times," Georgis Benjamin, a physician and the executive director of the American Public Health Association, tells CNBC Make It.

And plan to run your errands during off-peak hours so you'll be around fewer people. (Experts say that peak grocery store hours are typically in the afternoon on weekends and between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.)

If your store is crowded, stay at least six feet away from others, Benjamin says. Or consider shopping at a grocery store that's providing drive through, curb-side pick-up or delivery, Poland says. 

BYO-cleaning supplies

If you have access to EPA-registered household disinfectants, such as Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and Lysol brand disinfectants, bring them with you to the store to wipe down any surfaces that you will have to touch, such as a grocery cart or gas pump, Benjamin says.

It's also a good idea to bring hand sanitizer if you have it, in case you can't wash your hands on-the-go, he adds.

Gloves and masks still aren't necessary, unless you're sick: "We're trying to keep those for healthcare providers," he says. (The Food and Drug Administration has released guidelines for personal protective equipment to prevent a shortage for healthcare workers.)

Wash your hands after each of these touch points

You've been hearing this for months but if you're going out, be extra diligent about not touching your face and washing your hands.

Benjamin says make sure you clean your hands (with soap and water for 20 seconds):

  • after you get home from your outing
  • before and after unpacking groceries
  • especially after you sneeze or cough

(The CDC recommends washing your hands at these key times too.) 

If you want to wipe down boxes of food or even produce with a disinfectant wipe, it can't hurt, Jeff Nelken, a food safety expert in Los Angeles told The New York Times. But currently the Food and Drug Administration says that there's no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.

And don't forget to wash your reusable shopping bags after each use, the American Cleaning Society suggests. 

Skip the trip if you're high-risk

Those who are at a higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 include people with heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, as well as older adults over 65. These people shouldn't be running errands, so "it would be better if somebody could do that on your behalf if possible," Poland says.

And remember, "this is a time when we should be observing [social distancing], not only for our own health, but for people around us ," Poland says. 

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