3/29/20 Pay Less crowds

This scene at the West Lafayette Pay Less store last week has become common.

The best advice to avoid contracting the coronavirus is to stay home.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, among other state executives, made this clear March 16 when he issued a stay-at-home order to halt all nonessential activities.

That word — “nonessential” — exempts health care, delivery services and grocery stores, which are still operating. Grocery stores, in particular, are an inevitable weekly or biweekly trip. But when a lot of people flock to the aisles of Walmart, Pay Less or Fresh Thyme, epidemiological disaster could ensue.

Bolstered by recommendations from Libby Richards, a Purdue nursing professor and public health professional, here’s some common-sense advice on how to navigate perilous grocery aisles.

Most grocers have implemented exclusive early morning shopping hours for members of high-risk populations, such as those over 60 or who have preexisting health conditions. The red carpet has been unfurled, the security cameras stand ready: It’s your time to shop.

Most stores are providing hand-sanitizing wipes at the entrance. How kind! It’d be not only dumb but rude to pass those up. Plus, the trickiest part comes right after.

The carts! Oh, the many hands that have spread their germy remnants pushing those shopping carts. Workers at any grocery store are instructed to wipe those handles down, but to be safe, do it yourself using a disinfectant wipe.

A lot of shoppers choose to sport disposable gloves. I caution against this. Those gloves provide a false sense of security. As soon as you touch anything, you still shouldn’t touch your face until you remove them. A clean set of hands and the willpower to keep them by your sides go a long way when roaming the aisles.

“If you’re going grocery shopping, while you’re in the store and out-and-about, limit touching your face,” Richards said. “You just need to assume you’ve got stuff on your hands.”

Observe quantity limits on common items like bread, pasta, toilet paper and hand sanitizer. There is enough inventory, so avoid engaging in panic-buying. Ignore fear-mongering shoppers who say anything, including the words “run out.” Expect to be confronted and interrogated by store managers in the event you try to skate by.

When you’re in line standing behind your cart, you should already be about 6 feet behind the person ahead of you. Speaking with the cashier may be the closest interaction you have the entire trip, so be cognizant of any errant sneezes or coughs.

Meijer, Pay Less and Walmart are set to up the ante and install sneeze guards at registers as an extra layer of precaution. Still, sneeze into your arm: Spraying snot all over a plate of plexiglass is crazy-gross. Protective barriers should not encourage outlandishness.

While transporting the goods from store to home, Richards emphasizes handwashing and the liberal use of disinfectant wipes.

“Come home, put your groceries in your house, go wash your hands,” Richards said. “Put your groceries away, go wash your hands. And then consider yourself OK. Once you’re in your house, that area is clean.

“Also, wiping things down after trips such as your steering wheel, your car door handle, the door knob to your house, things that you touch before you get a chance to wash your hands,” Richards added. “We know now that the virus can live on hard surfaces, such as plastic and metal, for a couple days.”

Following every single one of these steps to a T might feel tedious, but only because it’s uncommon. They’re worth becoming used to because of the uncertainty surrounding how quickly governments can abate the spread of coronavirus.

A vaccine is at least a year off, and Indiana eclipsed 1,500 cases Sunday, according to the Indiana State Department of Health website. As of Sunday, Indiana had 32 deaths, and the first in Tippecanoe County last week should make clear that this virus could soon infect someone you know.

“Everyone needs to think about not only exposing themselves, but the potential to expose people that they love and also people they’ll never know,” Richards said. “If we all don’t think along those lines, we’re gonna have a real tough time getting this under control.”

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