Grocery shopping safety in the time of Corona
March 24, 2020 4:25 AM   Subscribe

There is no delivery here (not US). I am terrified after my last trip where despite going very early such that I was the only customer, the staff crowded around me and almost touched me. Please help me protect myself.

I have dish gloves and a few paper masks left from months ago.

I have a long umbrella I can try to use as distance marker.

The staff wear gloves and masks in all shops.

I need to leave in the next few days because I will need more tp and fresh food soon.

There is nothing in place in stores to keep patrons a certain distance away so I have no choice but to have some walk by less than a foot from me if they are there. I have been rebuffed or ignored when I've asked for distance. I need to go to more than one store because not everything is available at one store.

I could certainly last another week but I do need to go at some point. Please help me not be terrified and to protect myself as best I can.
posted by affectionateborg to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think the best thing you can do is to do your best, and when you get home - change out of your clothes (taking them off just inside your door, turning them inside out as you do), put them in the wash - or a bucket of soapy water if you don't have a washing machine. And then take a soapy shower or washing up, head to toe.

And then do what you can to bleach wipe or wash the outsides of the products you just brought from the store. For toilet paper, remove the packaging and throw it away. Touch it as little as possible (so - gloves if you have them, but don't try to reuse disposable gloves that you already wore to the store.) Do what you can about the outside surfaces of the the products you bought - or put them in another room and don't touch them for 9 days, or as many days as you can avoid using them. Then wash your hands again.

We're all trying to reduce our risk as much as possible, but it's almost impossible, as human beings, to reduce it 100%. Do what you can, and be kind to yourself and others.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:36 AM on March 24 [4 favorites]

The point is to slow the spread of the virus. That keeps hospitals from completely overwhelmed so they can keep treating people who get sick, and it buys researchers time to test a vaccine and get it into production. We're not going to reduce the rate transmission to absolutely zero.

By mostly staying home and practicing social distancing, you're reducing the chances that you'll get infected and reducing the chances that you'll give it to other people if you do catch it.

I get annoyed too when other people aren't staying a safe distance away, but most of us are, and we're slowing down the spread of the virus. You can't control what other people do, just what you do.
posted by nangar at 5:40 AM on March 24 [10 favorites]

Can you call to see if they'll do a pickup order for you at any of the stores?
posted by DoubleLune at 5:44 AM on March 24

No, they don’t do that here doublelune.

thanks for the advice folks. I’ll just have to make do.

I’ve seen so many different things about how long it lives on what types of surfaces that I don’t know what to believe anymore.
posted by affectionateborg at 5:55 AM on March 24

I think my advice varies depending on your risk factors and the risk factors of those in your home. Are any of you high risk? If so, it might be worth seeing if you have neighbours or friends - or their teenage children - who would do the actual shopping for you, free or for a fee.

If your household is lower-risk, I think the amount of fear you are experiencing is understandable, but it's really more about managing those feelings. I am 100% team flatten the curve and I live with a 75 year old and a teenager with asthma. I get it. But there are some things where there's just a certain amount of risk, just like when there's traffic on the road you can be hit. At that point you just take the risk...mitigate what you can, and live with the rest.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:58 AM on March 24 [19 favorites]

Call ahead and ask what times the store is least busy. If you can't get through to the store hazard a guess. If the parking lot is packed go home and try another time.

Look down each aisle and wait until it is clear or at least clearer before entering. You can always do a couple of other aisles and then come back. Do the aisle you expect to be most crowded first, so you have more time to keep coming back to it.

Look at people and see if they will make eye contact and are aware of you before you are too close. If they won't make eye contact give them more space and assume they will potentially come close to you. People signal their awareness of you by how they look at you and you can learn to predict from their gaze how likely they are to crowd you.

If you do end up too close to people, face the wall or the shelves so that the back of your head is between them and your face, to reduce breathing the same air that might have droplets. You can stop on the spot and pivot your direction as they go by. You're going to jump in the shower and shampoo when you get home.

Use your cart to help create social distance. Be prepared to not be deferential. Cart pushers usually do a lot of jockeying around to avoid blocking people. You should still be doing that because you don't want to have some one impatient walking abreast of you, but you can also team up with other people without needing to discuss it, to ensure that when people have to wait they are not bunching up in your airspace.

Look for someone practicing good social distancing and follow them at the correct distance. You do risk an impatient person weaving past you, but they will be your advance scout and may provide some blocking that protects you.

Say, "I don't want to infect you," when requesting social distance. If they look at you with horror and hostility you can defuse it by saying, "My cousin was traveling. I haven't seen her but I did see her mother."

Remember that many people who are not social distancing sufficiently are doing so because their living circumstances make it really difficult and they haven't figured out how to make it part of their reality, not because they are in denial or don't care. Until someone who who works at a job where they apply make up to multiple strangers has figured out how to get distance from that situation they will not be prioritizing the six foot or more rule in stores. For many people social distancing only begins after their boss tells them to go home and stay home. There are a huge number of people not social distancing who are very close to a panic meltdown because they don't know how to do it and not get fired, or be homeless, or estranged from family, or miss medical appointments critical to their quality of life.

Be extremely patient and don't try to rush through the expedition because you feel safer at home. Better to stand in the back of the store for twenty extra minutes observing traffic patterns than to grab things and forget to sanitize when you get in.

If your face starts to itch try to convince yourself that some other area of your body, such as your crotch is even more itchy by concentrating hard on the sensations there, and then if your hands override your do-not-scratch commands, scratch that area instead. Displacing your attention deliberately this way helps extinguish the feeling of itchiness in the area it is most important that you do not touch.

Keep in mind that social distancing rates are increasing sharply in most areas so there is a strong chance that when you go to the store this time, people will be being more careful.

Thank the clerks on your way out. Part of why they may have been crowding you is because they have been yelled at for practicing social distance, and because they feel hopeless to maintain it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:37 AM on March 24 [6 favorites]

From what I've read from the CDC the problem isn't it on surfaces it's when it's in the air & so far there have been no known cases of people getting it by eating anything with it on. It can't infect you just sitting there, you infect yourself by touching the item then rubbing your face/mucus membranes. Soap is very effective against it luckily.

So I'd take the steps mentioned above about stripping & washing to not bring anything in on you or your clothes. I would clean the boxes as well as you can & leave them as long as you can before touching to decrease the amount of the virus on them as much as possible. If you don't have space to do this or need the food, remember you can still stop the transmission of the virus to you by washing your hands, so I'd wash my hands well after preparing food with those goods. You might not be able to remove all the virus from the food packaging, but you can prevent the transmission of it from the packaging to you.
posted by wwax at 6:37 AM on March 24 [2 favorites]

Consider changing stores and going to one with wider aisles than your usual store, if your regular store has very little empty space to social distance into.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:41 AM on March 24

I do what I can to minimize my distance from people. It also helps that I'm getting less and less afraid to speak up if someone is crowding me; I speak up politely at first (and every time I've done so thus far, the other person immediately apologizes, they'd just temporarily forgotten and I understood), but would probably speak more sternly if they gave me pushback.

I also have taken a full shower after coming in from busy-ish public places - I've joked to my roommate that these are my Silkwood showers, although they're much less traumatic. Soap and water is said to be even more effective than alcohol wipes and purell.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]

If you'll have room, load up the front of your grocery cart, and when you're in line, pull it after you instead of pushing it. You'll be able to determine how close you stand to the person ahead of you, and the cart will create distance between you and the person behind you.
posted by kate4914 at 6:48 AM on March 24 [7 favorites]

Many good answers above. I will add: "speak up." Call the store and explain your dilemma. Talk to a manager and ask if the store might give instructions to the staff to allow customers more space. If enough people ask for this, and if the store owners think they might lose business to stores that ARE making worried customers more comfortable, they might change their practices.

One store in my town has put strips of tape at six-foot intervals on the floor where the line forms. If any businesses in your area have taken such steps, mention it. Peer pressure among retail establishments might help things.
posted by wjm at 6:58 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]

For some clarification, as mentioned in my main post, I don’t live in the US. I can only go to the stores I walk to. There are not carts only baskets. There are only 2 grocery shops, two pharmacies, and one vet store within my range. They are not giant sprawling stores. These are small dense European style shops.

I am not high risk. I live alone.

I go at the least busy time. As mentioned, the main concern was the staff huddling around me. Asking people to move gets me told “it’s ok, there’s enough space”. I don’t speak the language well enough to argue and had planned on leaving in the next few months but that is not possible now, it seems.

I did hear back from one store they have resumed delivery for now. Whew!! I will tip well.

I appreciate everyone providing the advice and hope it helps someone in a similar situation in a place where it is more applicable. I wish I had those options here.

I do feel better now based on the tips about clothing removal, shower, etc, so it is helpful.

Thank you.
posted by affectionateborg at 7:00 AM on March 24 [5 favorites]

Also I contacted the store about it the day it happened and did not hear back to that or to my follow up message.
They won't lose business because they're one of the few shops open.

In addition, no one pays attention to the dots on the floor in either grocery store (at least they didn't last time i was there)

I am up against a strong culture of not queueing. Without an officer or security guard to enforce it, it won't happen.
posted by affectionateborg at 8:19 AM on March 24

I've found that some people will tend to stay away from you if you look like you're overly cautious. It makes them think you are probably infected. So yes, wear your mask and your very noticeable dish washing gloves. And maybe you can fake a sniffle?
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:37 AM on March 24 [4 favorites]

Off the wall idea: carry an (open) umbrella?
posted by deludingmyself at 8:44 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]

I would wear gloves, even cotton gardening gloves, if that was all I had. We quarantine everything that comes into the house if we can. Canned and boxed food stays in the grocery bags for 48 hours before being put away.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:33 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]

If you yourself aren't in an at-risk population, you mainly need to worry about spreading it to others.

If you can adjust your buying patterns so you only go less than once a week, then you minimise your risk of spreading it even if you do pick it up, because you have time to see whether you develop symptoms before your next outing. If you don't develop symptoms, there is a good chance you won't be spreading it on your next trip, even if people touch you (although of course you could catch it yourself from them). But then you wait another week+ and you'll see.

While 14 days between shops would be ideal, it's probably not essential, since MOST people who will develop symptoms do so in the first 5-6 days after exposure. And of course not everyone develops symptoms, so it's not foolproof, but it will make a big difference.
posted by lollusc at 10:34 PM on March 24

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