Plexiglass panes, distance information, restricted admission: supermarkets want to protect customers and employees from infection with SARS-CoV-2 even in the second lockdown. But how sensible are the measures really?
Bye bye crowds, hello standing in line: In supermarkets and retail stores, increased hygiene and distance rules have been in effect since spring due to the coronavirus – which at times also lead to queues in front of the shops.
Currently, the measures range from Plexiglas panels attached to the cash register and distance markings on the floor to admission restrictions and the request to pay with a debit card instead of cash. All of this is to prevent customers and employees from becoming infected with the corona virus while shopping.
But how sensible are the measures anyway? And how can I really protect myself from being infected with SARS-CoV-2 when shopping? We provide answers to the most important questions here.
- What do the floor stickers do as spacers?
- Can I get infected from goods that have previously been touched by employees or other customers?
- Shouldn’t I be using a shopping cart?
- Does cash pose a risk of contagion?
- How useful is a plexiglass pane at the checkout?
- How else do I protect myself when shopping?
- What is the use of the mask requirement in the supermarket?
What do the floor stickers do as spacers?
Despite all the uncertainties, one thing is clear: The coronavirus is mainly transmitted from person to person via a droplet infection and even smaller aerosols – i.e. by inhaling viruses that an infected person passes on when speaking or coughing. According to the Robert Koch Institute, infection is also possible in people who have no or only mild and unclear symptoms themselves. Infected people can also infect others during the incubation period, which in most studies is given as five to six days.
All of this shows that you should also keep a minimum distance of 1.5 to two meters from other people in the supermarket, which was previously considered safe. The distance markings on the floor are therefore useful.
The fact that there are not too many customers crowding into one market at the same time can actually help against contagion between customers. The basic rule is: Stay away from other people as much as possible – whether in line, at the cash register or between the shelves.
Can I get infected from goods that have previously been touched by employees or other customers?
According to a US study, SARS-CoV-2 can survive up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, and up to 24 hours on paper. According to a new Australian study from mid-October, the survival time of the virus on porous surfaces such as cotton is generally shorter: depending on the temperature, it is between 14 days and less than 16 hours. The scientists also found that the coronavirus can survive for up to 28 days on smooth surfaces such as cell phone displays or ATMs – and thus longer than previously assumed.
However, other scientists doubt that the results of laboratory studies can be transferred one-to-one to reality.
Because if the pathogens reach a customer’s hand via cough droplets on surfaces such as a pack of toilet paper and from there via a smear infection, the cough secretion comes into contact with the acidic environment of the skin. According to experts such as the virologist Christian Drosten from the Berlin Charité, this probably significantly reduces the risk of infection.
Nevertheless, you should also observe the general hygiene rules here: Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes when shopping and wash your hands thoroughly after shopping.
By the way: According to the current state of knowledge, you cannot get infected via goods such as toys or clothing that have been imported from other countries heavily affected by Covid-19.
Shouldn’t I be using a shopping cart?
In some markets, the use of a shopping cart is compulsory so that the store can keep an eye on the current number of customers in the store and thus avoid excessive customer density. However, this harbors a different risk: If trolleys or baskets are not disinfected after each use, viruses from their predecessor can stick to them.
The only thing that helps here: Avoid touching your face while shopping or eating with your bare hands afterwards. Wash your hands thoroughly immediately after shopping. If you are still on the move, use a hand disinfectant that is designated as “limited virucidal” or “virucidal”.
Does cash pose a risk of contagion?
In a number of markets, customers are asked if possible to pay with a debit or credit card instead of cash. How useful this is cannot be clearly stated. One thing is certain: the virus can also survive on banknotes.
However, it is not clear whether the number of pathogens stuck to the notes is sufficient for an infection. According to experts, the likelihood of contracting the coronavirus from banknotes or coins is very low. “I would largely forget the virus stuck on the coin,” said virologist Christian Drosten on the NDR podcast. Like influenza viruses, corona viruses are enveloped viruses that are “extremely sensitive” to drying out.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to pay contactless with a cash card or cell phone. If you are paying with cash, make sure that your hands and the cashier’s hands are not touching. Because SARS-CoV-2 can – like flu viruses – be transmitted via smear infection via the hands.
How useful is a plexiglass pane at the checkout?
As a rule, markets now have plexiglass panes attached to the cash registers to protect cashiers and customers. That actually makes sense. Because the panes not only keep both sides at a sufficient distance from one another. They also protect against droplet infection.
Make sure you keep enough distance from the cashiers when packing the goods and paying.
How else do I protect myself when shopping?
In the current situation there can hardly be too many protective measures – which, by the way, also protect against many other pathogens. In the supermarket, make sure you cough and sneeze intelligently – so rather in the crook of your arm instead of in the palm of your hand. Observe the minimum distance of 1.5 meters from other people. Wash your hands with soap regularly and thoroughly after going out.
What is the use of the mask requirement in the supermarket?
According to the current state of knowledge, wearing normal respiratory masks is beneficial for both the wearer and the environment in protecting against infection. On the one hand, mouth and nose protection can help protect others from infection because the mask catches or redirects some of the pathogens when speaking, breathing, sneezing and coughing.
On the other hand, a mask can also help protect yourself. In the meantime, studies have shown that the number of viruses ingested can also determine how severe the disease is. Mouth and nose protection only partially protects the wearer from external pathogens, but keeps at least some of them away.