Should you wear a N95 mask in supermarkets?

Since the pandemic began, people have been looking for the best way to keep themselves protected. Healthcare providers in particular need a lot of protection, and they’ve had to buy items like surgical masks, KN95 masks, N95 masks, gloves, and gowns, in bulk and wholesale.

N95 masks, in particular, are important for the protection of healthcare workers. But, their demand has been so high during the last 10 months that they’ve become scarce and are difficult to find for sale in any physical or online store. For this reason, they’ve been reserved for frontline workers only.

Is a trip to the supermarket worthy of wearing an N95 mask? Let’s discuss this!

What are N95 masks and who should wear them?

N95 masks, also known as N95 respirators, are the best option for virus protection in situations where the exposure to the virus is very high, such as the medical field. Their antiviral filtering properties surpass those in surgical masks and other types of face masks used in healthcare facilities.

According to NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), N95 respirators are those without resistance to oil and a filtration rate of 95%. This makes them able to filter out particles that are airborne and don’t contain oil, such as dust, smoke, and viruses like the flu or COVID-19. They have many uses because of this, but their use in the medical field is the most important one right now. The most popular 3M n95 masks used are the 3M 8210, the 3M 8511, and the 3M 1860.

N95 masks are such a valuable yet scarce item, they need to be prioritized for essential workers who are very closely and continuously exposed to the virus. Healthcare settings are some of the most high-risk situations for virus exposure, particularly for providers who need to be in contact with COVID-19 patients.

For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages the general public, including kids over 2 years of age, to wear reusable cloth masks. These wouldn’t be effective in a healthcare setting, but for less risky situations, like grocery shopping, they’re considered enough protection.

The danger of COVID-19 in supermarkets and how to avoid it

The experience of going grocery shopping has changed a lot as a result of the pandemic. In the beginning, this activity was one of the only ones permitted in many places around the United States. However, there’s a considerable risk that comes with going to a supermarket.

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom, catching coronavirus from food or food packaging is highly unlikely. However, many supermarkets in both the UK and the USA have made significant changes to prevent the transmission of the virus, which could come primarily from being in contact with other people, and not from the food itself.

These are some of the changes supermarkets have made to keep the shopping experience as safe as possible:

  • Making face masks mandatory: many states around the country have put this rule in most businesses, including supermarkets and grocery stores. This is based on the evidence that the virus can spread much more easily in indoor environments.
  • Floor markings: you’ve probably noticed the marks on the floor on the queues to pay, and this is to ensure a safe 6 feet distance between each person, which is called social distancing.  
  • Lines to enter the establishment: to ensure the number of people inside the facility is limited, long lines are now being formed outside and people have to wait until the space clears up a bit before entering.
  • Protective screens and face shields everywhere: this is predominantly present at the checkout cashier and face shields are worn by the employees. This protects them from the customers.
  • More hygiene measures: before the pandemic, we already saw sanitizer bottles here and there. But now sanitizing your hands is mandatory when you enter most establishments, including supermarkets.

Even though these measures implemented by the facilities are already great improvements, there are other strategies you can do for yourself while grocery shopping:

  • Wear a mask, even if they’re not mandatory where you are: some states around the country don’t require the use of face masks in public places. However, if you want to take control of your own safety as well as others’ safety, wear a mask either way. Additionally, try to avoid places that are crowded with people that are not wearing masks.
  • Keep your distance from other people: outside the checkout lines there are no floor markings, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still maintain a 6 foot distance from other people.
  • Make your visits to the supermarket less frequent: right now, with COVID-19 cases on the rise, it’s time to keep ourselves at home as much as possible. So, only go out when it’s extremely necessary. Take advantage of the delivery and pickup options available to you.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands repeatedly: not only is this necessary when you enter the establishment, but any time you’re in contact with surfaces that may be contaminated.
  • Try to touch things as little as possible: this goes along with the previous tip. Try to only touch the food you’re going to buy, and avoid touching any other surfaces that may be contaminated.
  • Pay by card: cash can be a great source of contamination, since bills can’t be decontaminated. Your card, on the other hand, can be sanitized after each use, and be much safer for you and the employee.

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