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Here’s how to stay safe from COVID-19 while running essential errands

Photo of the use of hand sanitizer at a grocery cart (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Use sanitizer when touching high-use surfaces. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

With the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and Harris County under “Stay Home, Work Safe” restrictions, many people may wonder how to run essential errands like buying groceries, taking a pet to the vet’s office, or getting home appliances repaired while minimizing their risk of contracting the virus.

Two infectious disease experts at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) – Rodrigo Hasbun, MD, professor of infectious diseases, and Michael L. Chang, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics/infectious diseases – have basic guidelines on how to complete essential tasks while protecting yourself and others. Hasbun and Chang see patients at UT Physicians, the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School.

They urge, first of all, that if you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath, do not leave your home. But if you are not symptomatic and need to go out, consider these tips:

Grocery shopping

  • Plan ahead to minimize trips, making a detailed list and buying enough groceries for a week, if possible. Going beyond this to panic buying and hoarding not only harms others who may need these items, but is also unnecessary because supply chains continue to function normally.
  • Maintain social distancing; try to stay at least six feet away from others, whether standing in line, browsing store shelves, or walking through the parking lot.
  • Bring hand sanitizer with you, and use it after touching any high-use surface, such as the keypad or a credit card machine. While experts say old-fashioned handwashing with soap and water is best, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is a great option while on the go.
  • Carry disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces like cart handles before you touch them and credit cards after use if you hand them to someone. After you wipe down a surface, be sure to let it air dry to give the disinfectant enough time to work.
  • For curbside pickup, try to stay in your vehicle to minimize interactions. While packages won’t likely play a large factor in virus transmission, a cautious approach would be to use hand sanitizer after handling containers and throwing them away, and then disinfect any surfaces the package contacted.

Takeout or food delivery

  • Follow social distancing guidelines, keeping six feet away from others when going into a restaurant to pick up takeout.
  • Use similar cleaning precautions as you would at a grocery store, such as sanitizing your hands after touching high-use surfaces.

Pets

  • Based on all available evidence, your pets cannot contract COVID-19 or spread it to you, so you do not need extra precautions when interacting with your furry friends.
  • When taking a pet to the vet’s office, simply practice social distancing and sanitizing techniques as you would visiting anywhere else.

Appliance repair

  • If someone comes to your house to repair a broken appliance, ask prior to their arrival if they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. If so, decline the appointment for everyone’s safety – they should not be working in the first place. If they do not have symptoms, practice the usual distancing and sanitizing precautions for your hands and any surface they touched.

Parks and recreational areas

  • Maintain social distancing as you would in any other scenario.
  • If you need to use a park bathroom or touch a potentially contaminated surface, be sure to use hand sanitizer afterward.

Hasbun and Chang also offer two important tips that apply no matter where you’re going. First, be sure to clean surfaces in your car before you drive; use disinfectant wipes to clean high-use areas such as the steering wheel, seatbelt buckle, and radio controls. Second, you may be better off not using a mask when you run errands. Most members of the general public do not use masks correctly, and due to the increased face-touching that often accompanies mask use, they can even increase the chance of contracting the virus.

“Bottom line, if you’re sick, stay home,” Hasbun says. “If you’re not sick, you can go out if you need to, but be cautious.”

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