The Most Dangerous Part of the Grocery Store During Coronavirus Is Unavoidable

Social distancing is of little use to prevent it, and initial safety attempts have been lacking

grocery store
Increased safety measures haven't helped the checkout lane
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
By Kirk Miller / May 1, 2020 11:35 am

The grocery store presents a series of new potential dangers during this COVID-19 pandemic, from shoppers not wearing masks (or not wearing them properly) to social distancing issues to how the food is handled.

But the most dangerous place in the store? That’d be at the cash register.

As CNN reports, the register “has emerged as the most dangerous place in the store, according to public health and worker safety experts.” No surprise, given that the CDC has suggested that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.

If a cashier is infected, it exponentially increases the likelihood that a customer will also contact the coronavirus. It’s also one area where customers are in close range with workers.

“The cashier spot is still the most dangerous since every customer passes this area and stands there for some time while groceries are moving down the counter,” as Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Riverside, told CNN.

Walmart and other stores have added additional precautions in recent weeks, including sneeze guards at cash registers, social-distancing markers and increased cleanings of checkout lanes. Supermarkets have also limited the number of customers in a store at one time and increased contact-less payment methods.

But not all stores are requiring employees (or customers) to wear masks. Additionally, self-checkout areas have been crowded, the plexiglass barriers are often ineffective (as customers lean over them) and any time an ID needs to be checked for alcohol purchases, there’s more close contact and additional shared touching between employees and patrons.

Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, told CNN that cashiers “need N95 masks as much as health care workers,” as well as face shields. He says they should all be sanitizing cash as well.

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