Experts Caution Against In-Store Shopping Amid Coronavirus Surge

‘Tis the season for holiday shopping, but given the current public health crisis, the spirit in stores isn’t exactly merry and bright.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, health officials are issuing a warning about the dangers of in-store shopping, encouraging people to stay out of stores and shop online whenever possible.

“Make the switch to doing your retail shopping by home delivery or curbside pickup,” Dr. Michael Hirsh, medical director for the city of Worcester’s Division of Public Health in Massachusetts. “Every trip that you take outside of your bubble and is a risk.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled the virus as being in a phase of “high level transmission,” indicating shopping in stores is a higher risk activity during the holidays as a result of larger crowd volumes.

“Indoors with poor ventilation and people close together is a recipe for cases to emerge,” Dr. John Brownstein, epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told ABC News.

Officials across the country have connected their rising case numbers to in-person shopping. In El Paso, Texas, the mayor said contact tracing over the course of a week showed in-store shopping was tied to over half the city’s COVID-19 cases. A spike in cases in Colorado has also been connected to retail establishments — especially big box stores

According to Brownstein, it’s the close proximity to others in areas such as checkout lines that is most troubling.

“A long engagement with someone who’s checking you out is problematic,” Brownstein said. “So potentially self-checkout would reduce the amount of contact you would have with the person.”

Retailers have, in many cases, done their part to help prevent the spread of the virus. In stores across the country, regulations are in place limiting the capacity of customers, requiring face masks and encouraging social distancing while shopping.

According to the National Retail Federation, these policies have been set forth because the health and safety of the public is their top priority.

“Retailers have been on the front lines of the pandemic, ensuring that people have access to… important goods and services,” the organization said.

While venturing into stores is necessary in some cases, experts are reiterating their pleas against leisurely trips, particularly when items can be ordered online. Certainly, the rush of holiday shopping is part of the fun for many, but it may have to be foregone this year in the interest of public health.

Have you been utilizing online shopping or curbside pickup this year? What tips do you have for people who absolutely must shop in stores? Let us know in the comments!