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'Can You Get COVID-19 Standing in Line?'

supermarket line illustration
By Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RNOctober 09, 2020

You snuck out to the grocery store during “nonpeak hours” to avoid the crowd, but it seems every work-from-home employee had the same idea, so now you find yourself standing in a very long checkout line.

And then someone nearby coughs.

Even though you’re wearing a mask and standing 6 feet away from the person in front of you, you can’t help but wonder if you could get COVID-19 while standing in a line like this.

As with many things COVID-19 related, the real question isn’t if it’s possible to get the virus this way, but is it likely. And the answer to that is: probably not.

Although the science regarding exactly how SARS-CoV-2 spreads continues to evolve, we know one way the virus can spread is through “close contact” (closer than 6 feet apart) over a sustained period of time (15 minutes or longer).

Standing in line at a grocery store likely does not put you in close contact with someone for more than 15 minutes at a time, which is why many experts consider grocery shopping to be a low-risk activity. Of course, this assumes that everyone is wearing a mask properly and staying 6 feet apart.

If you’re concerned about picking up the virus while standing on line, you can take extra precautions, such as:

  • Maintain more than 6 feet of social distance; go for 10 feet, if it makes you feel more comfortable
  • Don’t linger and chitchat with the cashier (this is the main situation that can put you in close, face-to-face contact with another person while shopping)
  • If you must speak to someone, turn your head away so you’re not directly inhaling their breath as they talk

Picking up COVID-19 while standing in line inside a store probably isn’t very likely, but you should take all the usual precautions to avoid the possibility, anyway.

 

 

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