If you do this while holiday shopping you’re at higher risk for COVID-19

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Never before has holiday shopping been such a health hazard.

For some of us, shopping for Christmas or other winter holidays is a chore — a necessity of this season that we tolerate because we want our loved ones to have gifts. For others, it’s a highlight of this time of year: stores decked out in holiday decorations, Christmas music chiming cheerily through speakers, Santas and snowmen, grabbing hot cocoa while traipsing in the snow from one store to another.

For the “chore” Christmas shoppers, 2020 has made the event even more of a stressful nightmare. For the “cheery” Christmas shoppers, the event has been transformed into something far less joyous and comforting.

Even if the holidays — and the shopping we do for them — might not be near as fun this year, at the very least, we can make sure they’re safe.

Thankfully, there are definitely ways to improve the safety of our holiday shopping. Here are a few.

Make it virtual

The most obvious, simplest, and probably most effective way of making COVID holiday shopping safer is by doing it online. Online shopping makes the risk of COVID-catching nearly nonexistent. There are no crowds, no germ-covered store door handles, or enclosed spaces.

But, particularly because of the circumstances of this year, it’s important to order gifts early enough to make sure that they arrive in time. It’s safest to order gifts by December 16th, unless you’re ordering through some kind of priority, express, or overnight shipping.

Basically, the sooner the better when it comes to timing this year’s online holiday shopping. We don’t need any more reasons to make 2020 Christmas more challenging.

Window or “eye” shopping

One of the potential problems of COVID shopping is touching or taking home gifts that others have already touched or picked up. We’re used to being able to touch, hold, or look at up close the gifts we’re buying, but that’s just not a good idea this year. Window shopping is a good start — and in the store, stick to only looking at a gift until you’re sure you’re going to buy it. This can go a long way when it comes to reducing the holiday spread of COVID.

Beware of surfaces

Beyond the gifts themselves, it’s best to limit our contact with surfaces as much as possible. Door handles and keyboards or pens during payment are a couple of the main risks. Try to avoid touching these surfaces when possible. But if you must use them, always use hand sanitizer or wash your hands after doing so.

Another big surface no-no in COVID? Cash. Cash is definitely not our friend this year, as we never know where it’s been, and it’s an easy way to pass germs between many different people. Stick to credit and debit cards, or, better yet, no-touch payments like Apple Pay.

Shop at less busy times

Because crowds and people are the biggest risks to us during holiday shopping, avoiding these when possible is a great strategy for reducing exposure to the virus. Try not to go to stores in the days leading up to Christmas, as these are often some of the busiest times. You can also try going at times of day or days of the week that are less likely to be packed. Early mornings are a good bet for reduced crowds.

Masks and social distancing

Finally, we get to the fundamentals of COVID safety: social distancing and wearing masks. Social distancing may be a bit of a challenge in stores, but we can still make efforts to stay at least six feet away from others — standing farther apart in lines, keeping away from other shopping customers.

Because in-person shopping inevitably involves a certain amount of enclosed space, shared air, and proximity to others, we of course need to keep masks on the whole time we’re shopping. Don’t forget to bring your own mask to the store — but, luckily, some stores are also offering masks to customers who forgot theirs.

The takeaway

The holidays are going to be different this year — there’s no way around it. But the one thing none of us want is to risk COVID exposure in the process of getting gifts for our loved ones.

The best advice is to take advantage of the convenience and safety of online shopping. But if that’s not possible for all of your gift-buying, take all of the important precautions to reduce the risk of in-person buying. For our own sake, the sake of our families, and the sake of total strangers, we need to be careful, respectful, and cautious to protect the health and wellness of everyone this holiday season.