The holidays are quickly approaching which means the holiday shopping season is almost here, too. But that’s going to look a lot different than usual given the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and that may shake your plans up quite a bit.
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In fact, with cases rising as cold weather has set in, it might cause a huge shift from waiting in line to shopping online. And there’s a good reason for that, according to internal medicine physician Janet Morgan, MD.
“It’s a big risk because you’ve got variable social distancing even in places where you’re mandated to wear a mask,” she points out. “And then there’s the risk of asymptomatic spread where you could be standing in line for a long time next to someone who has COVID-19.”
Ultimately, joining the throngs of other holiday shoppers at big box stores, malls and shopping centers — particularly for those Black Friday and Small Business Saturday sales — flies in the face of the CDC’s guidelines. That’s especially the case for waiting in the typically long lines that comes with holiday shopping, be it waiting to get in the store or waiting to pay.
“You’re coming into contact with a lot of different people,” Dr. Morgan notes, “and you’re going out in large crowds which is just not recommended.”
Different risks to consider
New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) underscores the risks you could face especially with large crowds. Explains Dr. Morgan, “Initially, if you were closer than six feet to someone who had COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes, you were at a higher risk of catching it. Now, the CDC says you reach that higher risk if you have multiple short contacts that all add up to 15 minutes.”
In other words, even if you’re only closer than six feet to another shopper a few minutes at a time — waiting in line to get in the store, scouring the same toy aisle and waiting in line to pay — if that time adds up to 15 minutes or more and they’re infected, you’re at high risk.
“In that kind of environment, you may not even realize you’re in close contact with someone several times over the course of your time in the store because you’re busy and focused on your own shopping,” says Dr. Morgan.
In addition to that, she adds, you can’t guarantee other shoppers will always adhere to necessary guidelines, including social distancing and even proper mask-wearing.
Unfortunately, the same concerns apply to shopping at smaller stores, too. While the crowds may be smaller, it’s still not advisable. “I wish it weren’t the case,” she says, “but we’ve already seen this before and there’s not necessarily an expectation that it’ll change.”
Safer options for that shared experience
Besides the basic purposes of these shopping trips — buying presents for family and friends — there’s a shared experience that many people love about them, a tradition or regular part of their holiday routine.
Dr. Morgan notes it’s possible to maintain this emotional connection even if you’re doing all your shopping online this year — not just on Cyber Monday. “You can connect via something like Zoom and do your online shopping together, sharing links to deals or bargains you find.”
Even texting each other is a way to keep up the communication and share your great holiday gift finds. “I’ve done that with a family member, texting back and forth while shopping online and then we’ll text each other pictures when the gifts come in.”
Online groups can also be a great source of not just finding good deals but also being able to share the deals you find or the great photos of your family and friends with their new gifts once they open them during the holidays.
The bottom line
Whatever your method for holiday shopping this year, Dr. Morgan reiterates that the bottom line is it’s best to forego shopping in-store and stick with safer and online options. “This isn’t forever,” she says, “but, for now, it’s just the safest way. By doing your shopping this way, you’re keeping your risk of exposure to COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses much, much lower.”