Your Important Health Questions Answered:: Grocery Shopping and Wearing a Face Mask

We are thankful to partner with UTHealth for this post, but the thoughts and opinions are our own. Stay safe out there.

In this new and uncertain time, we are thankful to bring you the answers to the pressing health questions that you have, specifically the questions you have about how to navigate stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the CDC’s recommendation that we wear face masks when we are out {which should only be in emergencies and to pick up necessary groceries or supplies}, more questions come about these masks and how to keep our family safe from this virus.

There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there, so we asked the experts at UTHealth to answer some of our questions and help us get through this time together. As usual, remember that we are all in this together. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Quarantine Resources to find the next activity to do with your kids or what workout you should do next. Most importantly, stay home and stay healthy! 

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Two infectious disease experts at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), Rodrigo Hasbun, MD, professor of infectious diseases, and Michael L. Chang, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics/infectious diseases at UTHealth and UT Physicians are here to answer some of our health questions and help us get through this quarantine. 

They urge, first of all, that if you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath, do not leave your home. But if you are not symptomatic and need to go out to run an essential errand, consider these tips:

Health Question #1: Should I Go Out and How Do I Stay Safe? 

Can I take my kids to Target for a quick trip? Can I get out of the car to go into HEB? Should we take a stroll around Walmart for toys and puzzles? UTHealth answers those health questions in this convenient post. Overall, they recommend that you only go out when it is necessary. Ask yourself, “Can my errand wait a month or so until it is safe to go out?” If not, follow these guidelines for grocery shopping and food delivery:

  • Plan ahead to minimize your trips. Utilize online shopping, such as curbside from HEB, Walmart, Target, and any other grocery shopping entity that has this service. Most are scheduled 7-10 days out, so plan early to get your items in. HEB usually allows for substitutions or add ons to pick up orders until a few hours before the scheduled pick up time, but that is limited during this quarantine. 
  • Maintain social distancing. A lot of stores are marking the ground to show where they want people to stand to maintain socially distancing standards. Stay away from others whether standing in line, browsing store shelves, or walking through a parking lot. 
  • Use hand sanitizer after touching high-use surfaces, like gas pumps or credit card machines. Wash your hands thoroughly when you can, but hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is a great option while on the go. 
  • Remember that anything from the store should also be considered dirty and unwrapped or wiped down before considered clean. 

Hasbun and Chang also offer important tips that apply no matter where you’re going. “Be sure to clean surfaces in your car before you drive; use disinfectant wipes to clean high-use areas such as the steering wheel, seatbelt buckle, and radio controls. Second, if you choose to use a cloth mask while in public, make sure you know how to wear and remove it safely. Most members of the general public do not use masks correctly, and due to the increased face-touching that often accompanies mask use, they can even increase the chance of contracting the virus.”

“Bottom line, if you’re sick, stay home,” Hasbun says. “If you’re not sick, you can go out if you need to, but be cautious.”

Health Question #2: How Do I Safely Wear a Face Mask?

The CDC has given new guidelines recommending that people voluntarily wear non-medical face masks in public. UTHealth wants to make sure you wear them correctly, so that you are not increasing the chance of contracting the virus by wearing it wrong. With medical masks being in short supply and earmarked for the medical community only, the CDC has given guidelines to making cloth face masks with a high quality thread count. Face masks can be a great way to prevent virus spread, but there are some dos and don’ts when wearing them:

UTHealth is here for us once again, with this post, helping us navigate these health questions. 

First, the cloth face masks are a supplement to social distancing guidelines, not a replacement. Your best defense against COVID-19 is social distancing, washing your hands, and staying home. Chang explains that the virus is passed through airborne particles that can affect you through the nose, mouth, and eyes. These droplets can survive for around 72 hours on surfaces, so when you touch a surface you can still bring the virus to your face. Wearing a cloth mask can help cover those openings and mainly help you keep your germs in, but can also decrease the amount of droplets that you breath in if people around you are not social distancing.

Stop Touching Your Face

If you are wearing a cloth mask, do not touch it. Hilary Fairbrother, MD, MPH, an emergency medicine physician with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, says “Once you touch the cloth part of the mask, you have to consider yourself contaminated and wash your hands immediately. If you must adjust it, only touch it by the strings or the ties in the back.”

“A tight fit with the mask covering the nose and the mouth, without many gaps, with a very fine material should help catch droplets,” Chang says. UTHealth also recommends that your cloth face mask covers your nose and mouth with a snug fit that does not touch your mouth. You want the mask to catch the contaminated droplets, yet loose enough that it doesn’t touch your lips. If the mask is that tight, the droplets can still be directly entering your mouth. The opposite is also true. It cannot be too loose where you can spread your droplets to others. 

After you wear your cloth face mask, you must think of it as contaminated and wash it in hot water or let it sit for 72 hours. Have several cloth masks in rotation to help with this issue. 

Health Question 3: What if I Want to Drink Some Water or Coffee While Wearing the Mask? 

In general, Fairbrother recommends not bringing beverages into the grocery store, or wherever you are doing errands. Take a drink before you go in, and then after you come out. Wash yours hands before drinking anything after you’ve been in a store. 

“You’ll want to first take off your mask and lie the outside part downwards on a surface that you will now consider to be dirty. Wash your hands. Now you then can take a sip of your beverage. If possible, drink from a straw or something that you don’t have to touch. Then wash your hands again.”

She suggests bringing a plastic bag to place the mask in once you are done with it, or putting it inside the middle console if you have one because it’s not a commonly touched place in the car. Then consider the console to be dirty. 

Health Question 4: Should I Wear Gloves?

My brother mentioned he saw someone wearing gloves and a mask digging around in their purse, which was then contaminated with the germs from the gloves. You have to be careful if you are taking these precautions not to cross-contaminate yourself or others. 

Gloves can be beneficial when used properly, but once you touch anything, you need to remember that they are now dirty. So no touching your phones, your kids, your purse, or anything else. 

“So the No. 1 thing with gloves is don’t touch your face or any part of your body/clothes once you put them on. If you are using gloves, you should take them off before touching the door handle of your car or the door of your home. When taking gloves off, it is very important to not fling material that might be on them onto yourself or a surface that you are about to touch,” Fairbrother says. 

And of course, wash your hands once you take them off. 

Heath Question 5: What Should I Do When I Get Home From Essential Errands to Keep COVID-19 Out of My Home? 

When you get your items home, Fairbrother says the first thing you should do is get them out of the bags, and leave the bags outside or in your garage. 

“They should sit for 72 hours before you can consider them to be COVID-free. I know that this creates lots of trips… so sorry in advance!” 

Items should be placed on a clean countertop that is now considered “dirty.” Wipe them off with cleaner. Toss any plastic or paper outer wrapping away immediately. 

Once the items are unwrapped or wiped off, you’ll set them a separate part of counter that is “clean.” 

“Remember that as you do this your hands are also ‘dirty’ so don’t touch anything else in your home. I use a paper towel and disinfectant spray as the days of my handy bleach wipes are long gone,” Fairbrother says. 

After everything is clean and unwrapped and the dirty counter is empty, you’re free to clean like mad, wash your hands, and put your items away as usual. 

Social Distancing is Key

Cloth masks and the precautions at the grocery store are great steps, but the key to keeping the spread of COVID-19 down is social distancing and staying home.

Only go out for essentials and when you do, its best if you can leave your children at home. And, it bears repeating that if you have any symptoms consistent with COVID-19, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath, do not leave your home.

Stay safe, mommas. We are all in this together. 


For more answers to your health questions, check out UTHealth and their most recent health articles that may help you:: 

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Need more quarantine resources? Check out Houston Moms’ Ultimate Guide to Quarantine Resources! 

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