Currently, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to mass business closures, shelter-in-place orders, and a slew of other life-altering consequences. Given social distancing guidelines and local public health ordinances, you should be only going to stores when you need to and keeping at least 6 feet away from other people if you do go out, barring necessities. Unsurprisingly, with all this time spent at home, online shopping in quarantine has skyrocketed. But should you be online shopping during coronavirus for items that aren't essential? And does doing so put an unnecessary strain on the delivery and distribution personnel on the front lines?
Since most states have extended shelter-in-place orders and most beauty and fashion retailers have kept their brick-and-mortar stores closed for longer than most expected, for the time being, the urge to online shop grows every single day because, well, it’s one of the only options at the moment. As coronavirus is mostly spread through person-to-person contact, online shopping notably cuts down on your chances of exposure and keeps more people safely in their homes and out of stores.
"The more social distancing we can do as a community, the more likely we are to save lives during this outbreak. I think online shopping is going to be a particularly important part of helping us keep that social distance while in our homes and to protect people who are most at risk of severe disease if they contract the virus," Dr. Elizabeth McGraw, Ph.D., director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University, tells Elite Daily. "Those working in the food and shipping supply chains are going to become essential workers, just like our doctors and nurses."
But, as the entire world grows antsy and feels more tempted to online shop much more frequently than usual, there are still a lot of questions about consequences. Does online shopping still put you at greater risk of getting coronavirus? Should you be limiting your purchases to just the necessities? Where should you be shopping when you do online shop? Does not being conservative with your online shopping practices hurt delivery, warehouse, and distribution workers? If you’re worried about online shopping amidst the pandemic, experts have some thoughts and guidelines.
A study completed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases showed that COVID-19 can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours. However, there’s more to consider here in terms of whether or not that presents a severe, immediate danger to those receiving a package. “Strictly examining the situation, from the time that you order the package, and it gets in transit and then it gets through your door, it is very unlikely that the virus stayed alive through that process, given the environmental conditions,” Dr. Priyanka Mishra, Ph.D., a research scientist at the University of Texas at San Antonio, tells Elite Daily. “Most virus particles degrade in a matter of minutes or hours outside a living host, and the quantity of infectious particles goes down exponentially over time.” That said, even if a person with the virus comes in contact with your package, the chances of you contracting COVID-19 from interacting with that package are still relatively low.
Even so, there are some precautions you can take to further ensure your safety. “When a package arrives, use gloves to handle it and also let it sit for three days before opening,” says McGraw. Wash your hands after handling any packages, and if you’re ordering secondhand clothes, it’s good practice to wash them before wearing them, too.
The question of over-burdening the shipping and delivery system can go either way. On one hand, is it ethical to add stress to those packing and delivering, some of whom have reported unsafe work environments, by ordering non-essential items? But, on the other, isn’t it good to keep those who are still employed working by moving your normal retail practices online? As long as there are items to be shipped and delivered, people in those industries get to keep working and being paid. While there's not a perfect answer to this situation, one strategy implemented during the pandemic involves contactless deliveries. "Choose a no-contact delivery method when getting mail delivered," says Mishra. "The delivery persons leave your items at your door without physically handling them off, and you can leave tip outside, being generous in your way as they are risking their lives for us." This not only keeps people safe in there homes, but limits the amount of people delivery personnel may come into contact with.
Although there isn't a clear answer to the question of whether or not online shopping too much might strain the system, a good tradeoff is to shop consider shopping locally. “Where can my money make the biggest difference?” Zoe Johnson King, a professor of ethics at New York University's philosophy department, told GQ. In other words, it’s important to find safe ways to stimulate your community’s economy so that small businesses won’t have to close down forever once this is over. Generally, Amazon or Walmart isn’t hurting financially as much as a mom-and-pop shop near you is, so it's worth reaching out to your local stores to see if they’re offering curbside pickup or online options during their closure. As Shira Ovide put it in the New York Times, “Use your money to support a world you want.”
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, it’s important to shop carefully, whether online or in person. If you want to order something online, be sure to take the necessary precautions, avoid excessive or supremely unnecessary purchases, and think about where you’re putting your money. And, as we've all been told time and time again, continue the best practices of washing your hands, regularly wiping down surfaces of the things you touch every day, and, above all else, keep your distance.