How To Stay Safe While Holiday Shopping During The Pandemic

Yes, the holidays are going to look a lot different this year. We're about to experience our first (and hopefully last) Very COVID Christmas, and while the lights are still twinkling as brightly, all that joyful togetherness with family and friends is maybe going to have to be dialed back a notch. Okay, a lot of notches. Dr. Fauci has warned that we're in for a rough winter, and strongly urges that there's no place like home for the holidays, meaning that we should all stay right there in our own homes. Do like the top doc, who'll even be celebrating his Christmas Eve birthday (the big 8-Oh) via Zoom.

But what about holiday shopping, though? Carol Winner, MPH, MSE, a public health specialist who has consulted with CDC, NIH and other health agencies for some 30 years, spoke with us to offer her top tips for how you can shop 'til you drop without having the virus be the thing that's dropping you.

Avoid the crowds if you can

Winner says that the very best time to shop is any time when "other shoppers aren't out in droves," and advises that this tends to be early in the morning, at least if your shopping venues of choice should happen to keep such early hours. She also notes that even the smallest of crowds can be too dangerous for certain shoppers, including those with hypertension or diabetes as well as the elderly and the overweight.

"COVID-19," she says, "is especially harmful to those with a comorbidity or who fall into other high-risk categories," and she urges any at-risk individuals to "wait until we have an approved vaccine before going out in public." Maybe also wait until you've actually received your dose of said vaccine, as well.

Look, don't touch

Although the main way that coronavirus spreads is through person-to-person contact when you breathe in infected air, there is always some possibility that touching an infected surface could manage to transmit such germs, as well. Better safe than sorry, at any rate. Winner advises you "refrain from touching products unless you plan on purchasing them" (it is the polite thing to do, as well), and that you also wear gloves and refrain from touching your face since these precautions, too, may lessen your chance of infection.

Did you manage to re-stock hand sanitizer after the great shortage earlier this year? Hope so, since Winner says you should "carry antibacterial hand sanitizer everywhere you go and use it frequently" and also "use sanitary wipes to disinfect your shopping cart." (Unless you're still wearing your gloves, of course, since that could get messy.) And if you want to avoid perhaps the germiest surface in the store, Winner suggests you "avoid using cash and try not to use payment methods that require you to touch keyboards or use pens to sign your name." Google or Apple Pay make for good touch-free payment methods, but should these options be unavailable, Winner says "if you have no alternative, use sanitary wipes to clean keyboards before you use them and wrap pens with a tissue to keep your hand clean."

Keep your distance and wear a mask

Yes, social distancing is still a thing. Most stores should, by now, have signage indicating the proper 6-feet distance you should be keeping in line, and perhaps even directional arrows meant to ensure that store aisles don't become crowded in both directions, thus necessitating cart maneuvers more awkward than a manatee's mating dance and virtually guaranteeing you'll come within 6 inches of somebody else's germy bubble. Winner points out that "signage and floor markings [are meant] to create safer foot traffic patterns," and says we should all "be mindful of them and follow their instructions."

What's more, we should all still be wearing face masks, which may, in many cases, be required by the stores themselves if not by state or local law. Winner suggests face shields for yet another layer of protection, and says you should take the opportunity to wash your hands whenever possible, which you can do either in a public restroom or when you get home and take off your gloves. Hand sanitizer is good, too, but soap and water is always best.

The best way to shop

Winner acknowledges that holiday shopping, for many people, "helps them get in the spirit of the season," and yes, it can be a lot of fun to spend time choosing the perfect gifts in beautifully decorated shops as choir fa-la-la in the background. (It can also be a giant, stressful mess as you fight for the last must-have toys in a scrum of Target moms.) She says, however, that her number one rule for holiday shopping during a pandemic is, of course, to "do it from home where you can still make purchases from many local retailers as well as the major online stores."

Yay, e-commerce! It's been a thing for, what, 25 years now? (25 ½ in the case of Amazon, according to Business Insider, though once upon a time they pretty much sold just books.) Once upon a time it was just about convenience, selection, and often lower prices, but now, as it turns out, shopping online can even save lives. Sure, it may not be tradition, but in a year such as this, it's time to start a new tradition. Put on some carols, pour some eggnog, grab your mouse, and shop 'til you... get a hand cramp.