For most of us, the last few months have blurred together with a mix of jigsaw puzzles, virtual work calls and attempting to homeschool our kids before summer break (number lines will most certainly be the death of me). Or perhaps you are serving your community as an essential worker on the frontlines. Either way, we’re all making an effort to avoid leaving the house whenever we can. There are times, though, when we need to get to the store for necessary items like groceries or medication.
Many of us have been able to avoid the grocery store with alternatives like using grocery delivery or pickup. While these can be helpful, the long wait times and low-stock items can make it difficult to get the food you need.
For those of us still visiting the grocery store in person, we want to take every precaution we can. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently changed their recommendations for wearing face masks in public.
Do we need to wear masks to places like the grocery store?
Yes, the CDC recommends wearing masks or face coverings when going out to public settings like the grocery store or pharmacy. This is because we now know that a large percentage of people with COVID-19 never show any symptoms. This means you could pass the virus onto others without ever knowing it. We’re also learning that patients who do become symptomatic were contagious before their symptoms appeared.
It’s important to note that wearing a mask in public is helpful for preventing spreading the virus from you but is not as effective at protecting you from others. Your cloth covering will hopefully prevent any droplets from your talking, sneezing or coughing from reaching others. In other words, I wear a mask when I go out to protect you, and you wear a mask when you go out to protect me.
What kind of masks should we wear?
The CDC recommends using a cloth face-covering like a scarf, bandana or homemade mask when going out. Surgical and N95 respirator masks are in short supply and need to be reserved for healthcare providers and frontline workers.
Homemade masks can be made out of breathable, cotton material. If you have the crafting gene, break out the sewing machine and try your skills with a DIY face mask. There is also an abundance of options on Etsy. Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. Surgeon General, put together a quick video tutorial on how to make your own mask out of a t-shirt and 2 rubber bands; no sewing required.
If you decide to make your own mask, look for fabrics you already have around the house. According to an article in the New York Times, scientists have found that the most effective cloth coverings are made from thick, durable materials like pillowcases, flannel pajamas and vacuum bags. We know, 2020 has gotten weird.
How else can we stay protected?
The safest step any of us can take right now is practicing social distancing; avoiding crowds and always staying at least 6 feet away from others. In a recent Sunday morning show, Dr. Adams explained that masks should never be used in place of social distancing. Wearing a mask is a last resort when you need to go out in public to crowded places like the grocery store or pharmacy. We are still at risk of contracting coronavirus when in close contact with others, whether or not we are wearing a mask.
If you’re over 60 or immunocompromised, consider ordering your groceries online or looking into grocery stores with senior shopping hours, in addition to wearing a mask. And as always, wash your hands as often as you can.