Sergij Serbenenko / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Is Shopping In Person After Coronavirus Reopenings Safe? Experts Explain

Following the initial coronavirus outbreak across the U.S. earlier in 2020, states are slowly reopening after closing restaurants, stores, and major events in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. Although, hesitation over a second wave and spikes in cases have slowed reopenings down even further. Still, as you start to navigate new freedoms beyond total lockdown and return (somewhat) to normal, it’s important to make sure you continue taking safety precautions to protect yourself and others. Before you run to your favorite boutiques and thrift spots, I’ve talked to experts to find out just how safe shopping in real life is after coronavirus.

As of July 2, the level of reopening differs from state to state, according to CNBC, with some states opting to close again or pause reopening after dramatic spikes in cases. But even if your state is on its way to a complete opening, and you’re able to shop inside with no restrictions, or your state is entirely closed and will be for the foreseeable future, shopping in person won’t look the same for a long time. That said, it may be best to reframe the idea of “when are things going back to normal?” to “what is the new normal going to look like?”

How safe is the mall?

Malls are an immediate concern due to the fact so many people can crowd inside one building — even if it is such a large space. “If you are going to the mall only as a social activity, that needs to be balanced against the risk of being in closer quarters with other people. Outdoor social activities are better from the standpoint of reducing risk,” Dr. Ebbing Lautenbach, MD, MPH, MSCE, professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania tells Elite Daily. “So it’s an individual decision on what level of risk you’re willing to tolerate … If people in the mall are not social distancing or wearing masks, I would definitely avoid the mall.” But, large shopping centers like malls may (and should) take steps to make your experience as safe as possible. Dr. Rodney E. Rohde, PhD, MS, Associate Director for Texas State University’s Translational Health Research, suggests looking for safety measures like hand hygiene stations, guided shopping paths to keep people physically distant, and plexiglass shields for workers that make shopping much safer.

Do you still have to social distance while shopping?

But, before you gather up all your friends for a day of shopping, continuing to social distance no matter where you are, and staying home if you can help it, is imperative in the reopening of the country. “As of now, with what the research and evidence are showing us, the issue of physical distance is probably the most important factor in being safe,” Dr. Rohde tells Elite Daily. Therefore, he says stores should continue to limit the number of people allowed inside at a time. And if stores themselves are not limiting the number of customers at one time, you should take it upon yourself to assess how many people are in a shop at a given time and potentially wait until fewer people remain.

Yes, you still have to wear a mask.

Shutterstock

As for whether or not you can shop without a mask, that’s going to be a hard no for a while. Both Dr. Rohde and Dr. Lautenbach strongly advise that you continue wearing a mask while shopping, until a vaccine for coronavirus is readily available and herd immunity is reached. As for when you can expect the vaccine, The New York Times reports that one won’t be ready until at least 2021.

Should you use the dressing rooms?

Dressing rooms are another immediate shopping concern to consider; However, according to Dr. Lautenbach, the risk of coronavirus contamination from dressing rooms isn’t as high as you might think. “The virus doesn’t live long on fabrics so that makes picking it up from fabrics unlikely. Also, if everyone is wearing a mask, the likelihood of people contaminating surfaces and fabrics becomes less,” Dr. Lautenbach says. Nevertheless, he says that you should carry hand sanitizer for door handles and use it often. Dr. Rohde, on the other hand, goes further and notes that stores should wash items tried on before putting them back out and wiping down dressing rooms after every use. With this feedback in mind, it might be best to keep dressing room times to a minimum if you can help it.

lupengyu/Moment/Getty Images

Is shopping for beauty products a no-go?

When it comes to shopping for beauty products, sampling makeup in stores and using testers is a definite no for the time being. Sharing one makeup product with an unknown amount of people is already not the most hygienic thing in the world, meaning it’s definitely not COVID-safe. Since interactions between shoppers and beauty professionals tend to involve such close interactions, Dr. Rohde thinks makeup counters may have to go so far as interviewing the health status of the customers to ensure that employees and other customers are safe from being exposed to coronavirus.

Many hairstylists and salons have taken steps like mandating that everyone, customers and employees, wear a mask the entire time, in addition to precautions like not accepting walk-ins, limited appointments, temperature checks, and not utilizing waiting areas. For some procedures, like coloring hair, you often need to bring a change of mask since some dye could get on your first mask. Things like beard trimmings that require mask removal are still on pause. And overall, hairstylists have been very thorough about the disinfection process between customers. Some of these safety measures can, and likely should, carry over to any other sort of beauty shopping or salon services.

OK, so how long before shopping is complete safe again?

So, when will you feel totally safe while shopping? Well, it’ll be awhile. “Once a vaccine is available, and cases have gone down to nearly zero, then one should feel safe. Until then, and that’s probably some time off, practice sensible precautions: social distance, wear a mask, frequent hand hygiene,” Dr. Lautenback says. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t shop for an entire year. While being in small spaces with strangers is not ideal, there are ways you can enjoy shopping while still being safe. Just make sure to always follow public health orders, use the most hygienic practices, be courteous and cognizant of others’ personal space, and stick to online shopping when it’s feasible. And of course, stay home and practice social distancing as much as you possibly can.