Shipping crunch drives shoppers into stores -- putting them at a higher COVID-19 risk, experts say

As we close in on Christmas, many are facing a holiday shopping dilemma -- can they safely go to a store if online gifts can't get shipped in time?

"Make the switch to doing your retail shopping, by home delivery, or by curbside pickup," says Worcester Medical Director Dr. Michael Hirsh. "Every trip that you take outside of your bubble and is a risk."

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As COVID-19 cases continue to surge at the busiest time of year for travel and retail, the CDC warns of high-level transmission, calling shopping in person a higher risk.

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In Texas, the mayor of El Paso says a week's worth of contract tracing data from November indicated infections tied to shopping represented more than half of all cases.

"Indoors with poor ventilation and people close together is a recipe for cases to emerge," said Epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital Dr. John Brownstein.

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Retailers nationwide are doing what they can to keep cases low and stores open -- limited capacity, enforced face coverings and social distancing. Plexiglass at checkout counters is also common.

"Waiting in a line in close proximity to someone else could be problematic," said Brownstein. "A long engagement with someone who's checking you out is also problematic. So potentially self checkout would reduce the amount of contact you would have with the person."

The CDC recommends opting for curbside pickup. But, if you must go inside, try to go off-hours, only touch what you plan to buy and use touchless payment if you can.