How Do I Make Thanksgiving Grocery Shopping Safer?
With coronavirus cases raging across the U.S., holiday food shopping just got more complicated. We asked the experts for advice.
So you’ve canceled your Thanksgiving travel plans, quarantined the college student and created a scaled-back, family-only holiday menu. Good job.
Now you just need to tackle the food shopping.
The crush of grocery store shoppers on the days leading up to Thanksgiving can be maddening in the best of times, but it’s especially stressful this year. The coronavirus is raging around the country, and many communities are imposing new restrictions and closings.
The good news is that everyone has learned a lot about how to safely navigate a grocery store in the months since coronavirus lockdowns first started.
“People have been shopping throughout the pandemic,” said Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech and one of the world’s leading experts on airborne disease transmission. “There’s no evidence that grocery shopping has led to large outbreaks or a significant amount of transmission.”
We talked to Dr. Marr, other public health experts and store officials about the safest way to shop amid a new wave of infections. The bottom line: Wear a well-fitting mask the entire time, avoid close contact with other shoppers, keep the trip short and wash your hands.
Most people catch the virus by spending extended time with an infected person in an enclosed space — and the infected person may not have symptoms or know they are contagious. Wearing a mask reduces your risk but doesn’t eliminate it, which is why you shouldn’t linger in the food aisles.
“Don’t count on your mask to be a total blockade,” said Michael Osterholm, a member of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s coronavirus advisory group and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “The time of exposure is really important.”
A 30-minute shopping trip should be relatively safe if you mask up, keep your distance and avoid touching your face, said Dr. Marr. Bring a shopping list, and have substitutes in mind in case the store runs out of an item. Avoid crowded aisles or mobs around the produce bins. Keep your distance from others in the checkout line and at the register.
Dr. Marr notes that the 30-minute time limit is not based on a particular study, but on the work of ventilation experts and other scientists who have analyzed how the virus spreads. “A half-hour seems like about the right time, where hopefully you can get something done, but you’re not putting yourself in a higher risk situation,” said Dr. Marr.
Check your store policies.
Many stores have added new restrictions and taken additional precautions for the holidays. Be prepared to wait in line outdoors. Walmart, Wegmans and Kroger, for example, have all said they will limit the number of customers in the store. Many stores have imposed purchase limits on high-demand items, like toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, disinfecting wipes and hand soap. Costco members with a medical condition used to be exempt from wearing a mask; now everyone over the age of 2 must wear a mask or face shield.
Avoid peak shopping times.
Avoiding crowds lowers your risk. It’s best not to shop Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. — that’s been the busiest food shopping time in recent months, according to Google Maps data. Grocery stores are least crowded on Mondays at 8 a.m. During a typical Thanksgiving week, Wednesday is the busiest shopping day. Bakeries were most crowded at noon, grocery stores were packed between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and liquor store shopping peaked at 6 p.m.CORONAVIRUS BRIEFING: An informed guide to the global outbreak, with the latest developments and expert advice.Sign Up
Some stores are offering senior shopping hours and posting information about the best time to shop to avoid crowds. Wegmans is adding live outdoor cameras at major stores so customers can check online to see how busy the store is before leaving home.