Do You Need to Wear a Mask While Grocery Shopping?

Read this before your next supermarket run.

It's been about two weeks since President Trump announced new CDC recommendations that Americans should wear cloth face coverings in public to attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus (as a reminder, save the medical masks for healthcare workers and first responders).

Quickly after the announcement, though, he added, "I don't think I'm going to be doing it," which may have caused some confusion among the general public about what's necessary during those essential errands. Take a look around the average grocery store in many cities across the U.S., and you'll likely see a 50-50 split of mask-wearers and maskless shoppers.

To try to clear up any confusion, on April 15, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared masks mandatory for all customers and employees. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo also mandated that state residents wear masks when social distancing is not possible. This comes on the heels of news from the New York Times of large congregations of people outside of Trader Joe's in Union Square and more than 30 COVID-19-related deaths among grocery store employees. Similar mandates regarding face coverings are in place locally across the country, including in Los Angeles and Maryland, so be sure to check with your local public health department for the latest recommendations in your area.

So we turned to the CDC for their final answer on what to do when shopping for food.

woman wearing a face mask and picking out produce at a grocery store
Getty / Images By Tang Ming Tung

Do You Need to Wear a Mask While Grocery Shopping?

"A cloth face covering should be worn whenever people are in a community setting, especially in situations where you may be near people. This includes grocery stores and pharmacies. Even when they're not crowded, it can be tough to keep six feet of distance in the grocery store aisles," says the CDC spokesperson we asked on April 16.

To be clear, wearing a mask is not a replacement for social distancing—these spread-slowing strategies work in partnership. Aim to remain at least six feet apart from other people, wash your hands frequently and take other preventive actions when wearing a face covering like limiting time around others and avoiding touching your face.

Since it doesn't completely block viruses from coming in, like the N95 mask medical professionals wear can help do, the face mask is not meant to protect the person wearing it. These face coverings may, however, prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others, the CDC spokesperson said. "This is especially important for someone who may be infected, but not showing any symptoms," and experts estimate as many as 25 to 50 percent of those who have contracted the virus may be asymptomatic.

And you don't need to wear a medical face mask—save those for the healthcare workers. Any cloth material that covers the nose and mouth snugly, includes multiple layers of fabric and doesn't inhibit breathing will do the trick. The CDC has an example of how to make your own no-sew mask, and remember to wash your face mask routinely (after every wear, if possible) in the washing machine. Keep in mind, facial coverings are not recommended for children under 2 or people who have trouble breathing.

The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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