Avoid coronavirus: 11 ways to help stay safe when you leave the house

Practical tips for grocery shopping, opening doors and signing your name.


Social distancing is important in the grocery store, but so is how you shop.Jessica Dolcourt

Navigating a shopping cart at the grocery store. Touching a keypad to add a tip for your restaurant take-out order. Pushing the button at a traffic light when you’re going on a walk. Even if you’re quarantined at home, you may still need to leave the house from time to time for trips to the grocery store, the gas station or the pharmacy. But there are practical steps you can take to minimize your risk, even sanitizing your home and car when you get back. 

As the US passes 125,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus — the most in the world — outings are confined to your most essential needs and limited outdoor recreation. In addition to the tips below, it’s key to engage in social distancing every time you’re out and to thoroughly wash your hands when opportunities present. 

Some people feel comfortable wearing face masks. Be advised that global health professionals and national leadership ask that you save the N95 face masks and surgical masks for the medical community, which is at high risk for exposure. There’s a rising trend in masks you sew yourself, but there’s no strong evidence that homemade face masks protect against coronavirus

It’s important to reduce your risk of exposure when you shop.Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Enough with the fingertips: Use your knees, feet, elbows and knuckles instead

If you’re still pressing buttons for walk signs with your fingertips, stop. Any time you have to open a door, push a button, pull a lever or digitally sign for something, use a different body part instead. You have plenty.

For example, I’ll often tap out a PIN code or make a selection on a digital screen with my knuckle instead of the pad of my finger. I’ll push open a door with my shoulder, hip or foot instead of my hands.

You can usually flip on a light switch or sink faucet with your elbow or wrist, and you can wrap the sleeve of your sweater or jacket around the handle of any doors you have to physically pull open. It’s easy enough to toss your clothing into the wash later rather than expose your skin now, especially if the chances you’ll use your hands to touch food items is high (e.g. you’re opening the door to a coffee shop).

Distance, distance, distance

I know I mentioned social distancing above, which can mean anything from hunkering down at home and refraining from seeing outside friends and family in person to keeping a boundary between you and others when you do go out. 

The practice of keeping a 6-foot distance from those outside your home group extends to waiting in line at the grocery store, going on walks (you can momentarily walk in the bike lane if you’re careful about looking out for street traffic) and picking up food to go. As much as possible, 

If your state’s businesses are still open, practice social distancing anyway — make sure you’re seated far from other patrons if you’re dining in (best yet, take your food to go or get it delivered).

If you need to keep more distance between you and someone else, take a step back or politely ask them to move (“Oh, I’m trying to keep my distance from everyone.”)

Automated door openers like this can keep your hands from touching common surfaces.Slobo/Getty Images

Look for the automatic option

Most modern buildings have accessibility buttons to open doors for people with mobility concerns. You can easily touch this with your forearm, hip or foot (some are pretty low down) and wait the few seconds for the doors to open. 

Consider buying an automatic soap dispenser for home so you don’t have to worry about transferring germs to the pump.

Pay attention to where you put your phone

While we’ve gotten the go ahead to use disinfecting wipes on phones, another smart idea is to avoid placing your device on iffy surfaces to begin with. Do you really need to take your phone into the bathroom stall with you, or can you just leave it in a coat pocket or purse? The less you can expose your phone to shared surfaces, the less you need to worry about it in the first place.

When you’re anywhere with a shared surface, lay down a napkin and set your phone on that. It’ll save you having to disinfect your phone quite so often.

If microfiber cloth doesn’t put your mind at ease, you can use disinfecting wipes on iPhones now.Derek Poore/CNET

Pay attention to how you shop

Bringing your own totes and washed plastic or mesh produce bags offers certain benefits of protection to you because you’re the only one handling them and it keeps you from touching a “public” basket or shopping cart. Some stores ask for you to bag your own items if you bring your own bags. If you do shop with your own produce bags, keep them inside your tote and put the item inside the bag. 

On the other hand, others might become uncomfortable with the thought of you bringing your own bags, and some stores discourage the practice during this outbreak. If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to contact your store for guidelines before you shop.

If you do use the store’s baskets, carts and bags, thoroughly wash your hands before you leave home to protect others, bring your own sanitary wipes if you have them, to wipe down the basket or cart (many stores don’t stock these or are at risk of running out) and be sure to wash your hands when you get home. 

Don’t sort through produce with your bare hands

When sorting through food, I’ve been sticking my hand inside a fresh, store-supplied bag and using the outside like a glove to pick up and inspect the garlic and oranges I want, so as not to touch every item with my bare hands. One woman gave me a look. I couldn’t tell if she thought I was insane or brilliant, but let’s go with the latter.

You can toss larger cloth bags into the wash to sanitize them after a shop, and keep smaller plastic or biodegradable bags for future trips. Mesh produce bags are available from sellers like Amazon, Target and Walmart that are also washing machine-safe. As always, thoroughly wash your hands when you get home, as well as any produce you use.

Maybe don’t rummage through all the fruit and veggies without reinforcements.Shara Tibken/CNET

Greet people like this, not that

Millions of people are self-isolating, but on the off-chance you do see a family member, friend or neighbor, resist the urge to hug, lean in for a peck, a pat on the back or handshake. Also rule out elbow bumps and toe-taps. Try one of these 13 clever and satisfying ways to safely greet someone instead.

Remember, even if you feel fine personally, social distancing is a compassionate way to protect people in vulnerable demographics, like your elderly relatives and those with health complications. It isn’t always apparent when someone has a compromised immune system or other invisible underlying health concern.

Wash your hands every time you get ‘home’

As a contacts-wearer, I touch my eyes often. Making a beeline for the bathroom is now the first thing I do whenever I get back home or wherever it is I’m going to be for awhile (that’s really home these days, but had been the office and hotel rooms earlier this month). That’s after being out, after going to the gym, even before using the restroom. I might wash the soap dispenser pump and faucet handles, too.

That helps me feel safe enough to adjust my contacts, blow my nose and pick that nagging something or other out of my teeth in the comfort of my own space.

Carry extra napkins, disinfecting wipes and facial tissue

Packing extra tissues, disinfecting wipes, wet wipes and other paper products in my purse is already part of my habit, but now I pay extra attention to how much paper I have on hand. 

Normally, I might use a spare napkin to wipe my hands after an impromptu snack (also in my bag). Today, these products could come in handy to clear away germs, or act as a barrier between you (or your phone) and a surface. For example, opening a door handle if you just saw someone cough into their hands before turning a knob.

Stop handling cash

While it’s believed that the highest risk of acquiring coronavirus comes from person-to-person transmission, we do know that shared surfaces can harbor the virus. Play it safe by setting the cash aside for now and relying more on contactless payments.

A large number of payment terminals accept Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and credit cards with the contactless logo on them. And remember, if a digital signature is required, you can use your knuckle instead of your index finger. For a physical signature, start packing your own pen.

Banish questionable items to a long time out

Coronavirus can cling to surfaces, such as your jacket or a tabletop, for up to nine days at room temperature, studies have found. However, the CDC found that the coronavirus RNA remained in cabins about the Diamond Princess Cruise ship up to 17 days after passengers departed.

We know that a thorough cleaning with good ol’ soap and water will kill the virus’ structure, but if you’re not sure how to disinfect an item, like a dry-clean-only jacket or pair of boots, setting it aside for three or four weeks is another option. 

Read on for global coronavirus updates, how to track the virus’ spread across the globe, and how to sanitize your house.


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