Staying Healthy and Safe During Holiday Shopping

Samantha Cooper, D.O., Family Medicine

As we head into the holiday season this year, you may be looking forward to Black Friday shopping, especially if it’s a tradition for your family. Some may even be looking forward to feeling a brief trip into normalcy that comes along with buying gifts for loved ones and friends during the season, even though this year is far from normal. But is it safe to do so, especially now that Dallas County has lifted its perceived risk back up to the highest level? We spoke with Samantha Cooper, D.O., a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas and at Texas Health Family Care in Dallas, a Texas Health Physicians Group Practice, to get her advice on how to navigate the holiday shopping season safely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released new guidelines for the holiday season and ranked traditional outings based on the risk of COVID-19 and influenza exposure. 

“Going shopping in crowded stores around Thanksgiving is ranked as a ‘high risk’ activity,” Cooper explains. “Each department store will likely be limiting capacity, placing floor markers so shoppers can easily stand 6 feet apart, and requiring face masks to enter.”

Cooper, along with the CDC, recommends taking your holiday shopping online this year, and many stores are either extending their traditionally ‘in-store only’ flash sales to their online sites or closing their brick and mortar locations altogether and opting for online-only this year.

While it may seem like one more thing that the pandemic has ‘canceled’ this year, more shoppers flocked to online holiday shopping in 2019 than traditional in-store shopping.  

“Online shopping is probably the best, easiest way to avoid exposure to COVID-19 or Influenza this holiday season, and many retailers are offering shipping discounts and free curbside pick-up,” Cooper says. “It may not be the same fun, chaotic environment of usual Black Friday shopping excursions, but you can certainly make it fun with PJs and hot cocoa while shopping as a family from your couch.”

But if you still plan on hitting the stores, Cooper says there are some things to be mindful of this year. 

 

Show up early and come prepared

Find out when stores open and try to be there as close to opening time as possible. In general, fewer shoppers are often present at the time of opening.

Also, check the retailer’s website a day or so before your planned outing. Make a list of what deals you are shopping for at each store, so you can spend less time browsing and more time physically out of the store. 

Along with the same concept, make a list of everybody’s sizes (shoes, pants, shirts, etc.) so you are less likely to buy the wrong size and have to come back to the store to return your purchase at a later date. It’s good to know that most retailers will likely not be allowing samples or testers of any kind, including food or make-up. So prepare accordingly if you’re unsure of a certain shade or formula.

 

Review return policies

That being said, make sure you check out a retailer’s return policy before purchasing, especially on items you’re unsure about. Many retailers may not allow fitting room access and therefore have more lenient return policies than pre-COVID.

 

Safely distance and wear the appropriate protection

Almost every retailer you go to in North Texas requires some kind of face-covering while you’re inside their establishment, so it’s good to remember your mask if you’re rushing out the door to hit the stores. Remember: use a mask with two layers of cloth, face shields on their own are not recommended, and gaiters, while better than nothing, are not the best option. Also, remember that going to the restroom doesn’t mean you get a pass on taking the mask off. 

Try to only touch items you are seriously thinking about purchasing. This decreases the transmission of any germs on your hands to inanimate objects and vice versa. Teach your kids not to pick up random objects off of the ground, as well. This also goes for if you choose to wear gloves while shopping.

“If wearing gloves while shopping, be sure to pay attention to what you are touching,” Cooper reiterates. “Do not touch your personal items, facemask, face, food, etc. after touching other objects while wearing gloves. Germs stick to the gloves and then you transfer the germs from the store to your personal items or face. 

Which brings us to the importance of using hand sanitizer when washing your hands is not an option. Thankfully many businesses have hand sanitizer stations set up throughout the premises but make sure to keep some in your car, your purse, your child’s backpack, a few extra pockets, etc. Squirt some in your hands and rub them together until it dries.

Last but not least: stay at least 6 feet away from others who are not in your social bubble.

 

Skip Black Friday

“Hear me out — lots of retailers (such as Home Depot) are starting their Black Friday deals now, with plans to continue through the end of the year,” Cooper explains. “You may be able to space out your holiday shopping across this timeframe, rather than cramming it all into Black Friday. This decreases your exposure by keeping you out of the stores during high-traffic times.”

 

Stay home if you don’t feel well

Above all, stay home if you are feeling ill, test positive for COVID-19, or have been near someone who has. Going shopping when you are ill or have been exposed increases the risk of you exposing other people and them becoming ill. 

Finding a physician who can partner with you heading into the cold and flu season is essential to your health. We can help find a physician that’s appropriate and convenient for you. Call 1-877-THR-WELL (847-9355) or visit TexasHealth.org/FindaProvider today.

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