WebMD BlogsPublic Health

'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.



WebMD Blog
© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

More from the Public Health Blog

  • vitamin d supplement

    'What's the Best Time of Day to Take Vitamins?'

    Knowing what time of day to take your vitamin and mineral supplements can help you maximize their effectiveness and avoid dangerous interactions.

  • man sore throat

    'Does a Sore Throat Mean I'm Sick?'

    If your only symptom is a sore throat, it may not be anything to get worked up about. But, how do you know if you need to call a doctor?

View all posts on Public Health

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

  • photo of hand holding sleep apnea mask
    Sleep Disorders

    CPAP Machine Maintenance Tips I Use

    Your CPAP machine is critical to your sleep apnea therapy. There are a lot of machines on the market, and they all function the same ....

  • photo of woman swimming laps
    Eye Health

    Exercise and Your Eyes

    Keeping a fit body is important to lead a long, healthy life, but did you know regular, exercise can help keep your eyes healthy, too?

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More