Summit County Emergency Blog

Emergency blog
Activated during disasters and emergencies to provide critical public information. Administered by the Summit County Office of Emergency Management.

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Apr 02

Do I need to sanitize my groceries? What about mail or books from the library?

Posted on April 2, 2020 at 4:15 PM by Sarah Wilkinson

First and foremost, we are so grateful for all of our grocery store employees who are working tirelessly to keep shelves stocked, for truck drivers delivering supplies, for librarians and utility workers, for mail carriers and delivery drivers, and everyone else that is working during this time to help keep our lives as close to normal as possible.

If you’re wondering about how you can best protect yourself while taking care of necessary activities like grocery shopping or picking up the mail, you’re not the only one. Many people have questions about how COVID-19 is spread and if you can catch it by touching your groceries, mail, a library book, or other items. 

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) can be detected on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on stainless steel or plastic for up to three days. Though it does seem to survive on surfaces, the number of virus particles decreases rapidly at the start, then slowly approaches zero over time. However, these are still preliminary findings, and there are ways we can all take precautions until more is known about the virus.

How are grocery stores following the social distancing guidelines?
Our grocery stores are implementing many measures to ensure that stores are as safe as possible for our community. 

Natural Grocers 2

Stores have posted signage about social distancing, are using their loudspeaker systems to remind shoppers about maintaining a 6-foot distance from other shoppers, have installed signage/tape in checkout aisles to indicate proper distancing, and are instating regular, scheduled hand-washing for employees, among other practices. All stores are very diligent about inquiring with employees about wellness and ensuring they do not have any symptoms. If you feel that social distancing guidelines are not being followed, all stores recommend that you contact the store manager to voice your concerns.

If you are headed to the grocery store, try to go during quiet hours and maintain social distancing from other shoppers and employees while in the store. We recommend making less frequent trips and if you can afford, buy enough food for about two weeks. There’s no need to buy everything on the shelves as stores are receiving regular deliveries to restock their shelves.

The best advice remains: Wash your hands before you shop and immediately after you shop, do not touch your face, and try to stay at least six feet away from other shoppers and store employees.

Should I be wearing a face mask? What about store employees?
The current CDC guidance for the general public is that it is only necessary to wear a face mask if you are sick and are around other people, for example sharing a room or vehicle, or at a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not sick, the CDC only recommends wearing a face mask if you are caring for someone who is sick. Since face masks are in short supply, they should be saved for healthcare workers, first responders, caregivers, and other high-risk groups.

According to a recent NPR interview, the CDC Director Robert Redfield stated the agency is reviewing data around mask use by the general public. If you are healthy, and choose to wear a face mask, remember there is a shortage and masks like N-95s should be saved for healthcare workers, first responders, caregivers, and other high risk populations. There are many articles online about using household items like bandanas to create a face mask for personal use. 

Since current CDC guidelines do not recommend that healthy people wear face masks, grocery store employees are not required to wear them. Store management is allowing employees to wear a face mask voluntarily if it is their personal preference. 

Do I need to sanitize my groceries after grocery shopping?
The best and most important way to avoid contract COVID-19 is to wash your hands frequently and sanitize all high touch surfaces like tabletops, door handles, light switches, sink faucets, and phones. 

As for washing and sanitizing your groceries, the CDC always recommends washing fruits and vegetables under running water—even if you do not plan to eat the peel. For packaged goods, there are no current recommendations to sanitize those items; however, if it gives you peace of mind, you can wipe down cans, bottles and boxes with soap and water or disinfectant wipes before putting them away.

Can I get COVID-19 from touching my mail or packages?
The United States Postal Service stated, “the CDC, the World Health Organization, as well as the Surgeon General have indicated that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.” So while it is believed that COVID-19 could be spread through contact with a contaminated surface or objects and then touching your face, mouth, or possibly eyes, it is unlikely that it is being spread via mail or packages. We do always recommend taking precautions and so you should wash your hands after handling your mail or packages, and make sure not to touch your face while handling those items.  

I got books and DVDs from curbside-pickup at the library – should I sanitize them?
The Summit County Libraries are closed to the public but are offering curbside pickup for materials at all three branches.

The Library is taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of their employees and patrons, and have implemented the following procedures: staff wear gloves to process materials, they disinfect the book drop and other processing areas, washing hands immediately after handling materials and after removing gloves, and sanitize the covers/outside cases of all materials. As an additional precaution, all materials that are returned to the library are “quarantined” for 3 days before being processed. 

As always, you should wash your hands after handling an item and make sure not to touch your face. If you are touching the book or item frequently, and it will not cause any damage, you can wipe down the cover or the outside case with a disinfectant wipe.

An additional option for patrons who do not want to check out physical materials is to access Summit County Library’s large collection of ebooks and other materials for digital download