Is It Safe To Online Shop With Coronavirus? Your Questions, Answered

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From school cancellations to store closures to just general uncertainty about life, everyone is feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The world is trying to figure out how to practice social distancing while still meeting basic human needs on a daily basis. It’s a lot to deal with, and unfortunately, there’s no pre-existing guidebook for how to do anything in the middle of a pandemic.

Take, for instance, online shopping during coronavirus. Even though most retailers are shuttering their brick and mortar locations, many remain open online. But is it even OK to shop online? Which other factors do you need to consider before clicking “add to cart”? Below, we walk through some questions to think about when you’re making shopping decisions.

Can packages carry coronavirus?

All official government sources estimate that the risk of getting infected from a package is low, even if an infected person has touched it.

“By the time products reach your store shelves, it has usually been a few weeks since they were manufactured,” says Brian Labus, assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. “The virus might be able to survive a few days given the right environment, but it will be long dead by the time you purchase that product. Even if something you order online is shipped to you the next day, it has been sitting in a warehouse somewhere long enough for the virus to die.”

The same is true for the items inside. “[It’s] a novel virus and information is being gathered each day and in diverse regions around the globe,” Mark says. “It is not clear whether the virus can remain viable on clothing. If one is living with a person who is vulnerable — age, pre-existing conditions — it may be worthwhile to change clothing once inside your home and wash items.”

Should new purchases be washed?

A general rule of thumb is to always wash new clothes because, well, germs. Currently, there is conflicting information about whether the coronavirus can be killed at a certain temperature or if it can survive through a laundry wash. Your best bet is to wash everything thoroughly and in hot water, if possible.

“People can practice infection control through basic hygiene,” Saralyn Mark, American Medical Womens Association leader and Senior Medical Advisor to HHS, tells Bustle. “Wash surfaces with alcohol-based products — at least 60% — and clothing in detergent in hot water.”

Are mail carriers at risk by doing their jobs?

The reality is that yes, they are, at least to some degree. A recent study found that coronavirus can be detected for up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. It’s not currently clear how long it can survive on paper. Plus, mail carriers are frequently in direct physical contact with members of their community.

More than 40,000 people have signed a petition asking the United States Postal Service to “take immediate action to ensure the safety and rights of its workers, as well as the safety of its customers.” The petition calls for emergency sick leave and hazard pay to employees, in addition to making gloves, sanitizer spray, and face masks available at all post office stations.

How can I support small businesses that may be struggling?

“Resist the urge and comfort of double-clicking on Amazon or Walmart,” advises Allen Adamson, co-founder of the marketing firm Metaforce and adjunct associate professor at the NYU Stern School of Business. “Call your local hardware store if you need a few items and ask them to deliver. If you need new sneakers for all the outdoor running you will be doing versus going to the gym, call a runners shop versus [ordering on] Zappos.”

While the pandemic is affecting everyone, it’s hitting small businesses particularly hard. Even so, they’re doing big work to keep everyone stocked with the essentials.

“Service businesses and very small businesses will struggle the most,” Adamson says. “Think small. Send someone flowers. Get your shoes polished or heels repaired. Buy gift card[s].”

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If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC or NHS 111 in the UK for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.