The COVID-19 pandemic has made simple, everyday activities suddenly seem a lot more complicated — ones like grocery shopping, for example. Given the number of King Soopers stores and other markets declared outbreaks by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the act of filling a cart with food suddenly seems like a dangerous activity, even for many of those who wear masks and practice social distancing.
So what do you do if a customer without a facial covering is blocking the aisle and seems completely oblivious (and possibly even hostile) to the needs of anyone else in the vicinity? Do you just wait until the person moves on, even though that could take somewhere north of forever and lingering will likely result in more distancing issues? Or should you try to squeeze past the clueless malingerer even though you'll be much closer than the recommended six feet? What if it's only six inches? Does it help if you turn your head away or maybe even hold your breath? Would that be useful or pointless?
We posed these inquiries to the folks at the Colorado State Joint Information Center, which is handling questions related to COVID-19. And the answers we received are moderately reassuring, if filled with multiple caveats.
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"In general, we consider shopping to be a medium-risk activity," the center responds via email. "Factors that raise the risk are the fact that it is usually indoors, it can be crowded and hard to avoid others, and people may choose not to wear masks."
To mitigate these factors, the center recommends "shopping at less crowded times and at times set aside for higher-risk shoppers, and taking a list in order to be efficient."
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But then the center spokesperson adds this: "Walking briefly past a person not wearing a mask is not considered to be high risk. Exposure is through close, prolonged contact — closer than six feet for fifteen minutes or more."
In other words, go around those people who all too frequently make grocery shopping seem like running an infectious-disease gauntlet, even if the encounter is closer than you'd like. But do it quickly!