How to avoid COVID germs while shopping this holiday season

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FILE – In this Nov. 25, 2011 file photo, shoppers grab televisions at a store in Knoxville, Tenn., minutes after it opened. (AP Photo/The News Sentinel, Wade Payne)

INDIANAPOLIS — During the homestretch of the year, last-minute holiday shopping leads to larger-than-normal crowds at malls and other stores all over the country. However, it puts the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in light of the omicron variant, right at the storefront.

Of course, masks, vaccinations and online shopping help prevent the spread, but for those with no choice but to go in a store, there are a few things to keep in mind, such as: what to bring, the dirtiest places in stores and how to clean/quarantine gifts.

What to Bring

  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Contactless payment, such as cards or Apple Pay
  • Latex gloves

The Dirtiest Places in Stores

Many diseases and illnesses are spread by unclean hands. So, naturally, the areas and objects in a store with the most germs are ones with a large amount of hand traffic, where many different people would have their hands on them throughout the day.

  • The shopping cart. Perhaps one of the germiest spots in a store besides cash itself, shopping carts have been found to have 8,112 bacteria colonies per square inch. A toilet handle, meanwhile, has only 30 bacteria colonies per square inch. In random swabs and tests on shopping carts across the United States that 72 percent of carts were detected to have Coliforms, a bacteria found in the feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. E. coli was also identified on 51 percent of shopping carts.

    It’s ideal, when handling shopping carts, to wipe them down with disinfectant wipes. Be sure to wipe the handle, the child seat, the rim of the basket and anywhere else that would have been in a high hand traffic throughout the day.
  • Door handles. While many stores now use automatic doors at their entrances and exits, there are still many other doors, such as refigerator and restroom doors, that carry many colonies of germs. Studies have been conducted on hospital doors assessing bacterial contamination have found that door handles are some of the most neglected when it comes to cleaning/disinfection, despite the vast amount of bacteria (such as as E. coli and MRSA) that lives on the handles. It would be beneficial to wipe down handles before and after touching them, or wearing latex gloves to avoid the germs coming into contact with skin.
  • Elevator buttons. To avoid touching, new tools are being invented to press buttons, open doors and perform other tasks to avoid spreading germs. Of course, gloves would also prevent germs contacting with skin.
  • Touch screens. Tools and other gadgets meant to prevent touch wouldn’t work against a self-checkout touch screen or a cell phone. Many touch screens also wouldn’t register a glove, creating a sticky situation for people trying to protect themselves. Self-checkout touch screens see a 97x germ growth from the start of the day to the end, despite attempts at disinfection by staff.

    It would be beneficial to wipe down the self checkout with a disinfecting wipe before and after scanning and bagging all items. This would also be a good time to utilize hand sanitizer to disinfect your hands before you can wash them when you get home.

How to Clean/Quarantine Gifts

  • Items like produce are often squeezed, pat or touched in some other way to test the ripeness of the food. It’s important to properly clean produce under clean, running water before consuming.
  • Individual items should be quarantined before packaging and wrapping to gift to others. It was stated that 24 hours is an acceptable duration for the quarantine of materials, especially since the CDC isn’t too concerned about paper items and other inanimate objects transmitting COVID-19. After quarantining, the space should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

The CDC has released guides on how to disinfect and clean your home and other facilities as well as the different types of surfaces within them.

Of course, handwashing, masks and vaccinations are effective in protecting yourself and others. Those who wish to get vaccinated may do so online or by asking nearby pharmacies that offer the vaccine.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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