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Is it safe to try on clothes at stores during the coronavirus pandemic?

Much of the planet has been in a coronavirus-induced lockdown for months now, going out to shop only when necessary to buy essential goods. But non-essential stores like those that sell clothing are gradually reopening. So what are they doing to protect their customers? And how safe is it to try on new clothes?

While people do want to go out and shop again, they also want stores to follow strict health guidelines that keep the shop sanitized and the customers safe. A survey by First Insight concluded that 65% of women and 54% of men are not comfortable using a dressing room right now.

Another survey by MysizeID found that the majority of millennials would prefer contactless payment options and purchases made via mobile devices. Gen Z would like the ability to book a private fitting room, while the majority of baby boomers want retailers to hold returned merchandise for 48 hours before it goes back on the shelves. 

In other words, consumers have concerns.

Is it possible to catch the coronavirus from clothes?

According to William Lang, director at the concierge medicine practice WorldClinic, fabrics do not harbor the virus for very long. However, since we are still learning new things about the coronavirus every day, it is difficult to measure the risk factor associated with trying on garments. “The data is still not completely clear on this,” Lang said. 

The greater risk of contracting the virus in a store is if a fellow shopper coughs, sneezes or even talks. If their droplets reach you, whether through the air or on a surface, you could become infected. 

Stores are taking extra precautions.

You’ll find different clothing stores operate at different levels of caution.

For example, St. HROUDA in Brooklyn, New York, is letting customers try on clothing while employees are wiping down hot spots like door handles, cash registers and fitting rooms more frequently. “We are cleaning the boutique more frequently, after every customer or hour,” a representative of the store told HuffPost. Face masks are mandatory and customers are requested to sanitize their hands as soon as they walk in. Employees steam every piece of clothing someone tries it on before putting it back on the rack. The store is also offering pickup for those who are uncomfortable coming in.

Shopping with a mask isn't mandatory in every store, but it's strongly suggested.Getty Images

Major brands like Gap have also reopened their fitting rooms. “In response to customer demand, we’re reopening most of our fitting rooms and increasing regular cleaning,” the company noted on its updated FAQs page. 

PERI.A in Los Angeles is allowing customers to try on clothes and then sterilizing all clothes and accessories with UV wands if they’ve been tried on and not bought. By offering private consultations, it helps people to shop while maintaining social distance. The store is operating at 50% capacity. 

Nordstrom has decided to keep some changing rooms closed to ensure social distancing. And after a customer tries on or returns an item, the store keeps the item on hold for a period of time before putting it back on the sales floor.

Macy’s is giving its employees a compulsory wellness check before shifts begin. Plexiglass shields have been installed at the checkout counters. 

Some stores don’t let customers enter if they are not wearing masks and others are letting only a handful of customers shop at a time. And in most cases, employees are wearing masks or face shields.

What to keep in mind before going out shopping.

According to licensed physician Leann Poston, you should be careful in choosing a store. The risk of exposure to COVID-19 depends on four factors: how many people are crowded in the space, how enclosed the space is, how long you spend in the space, and the number of people in the space who are infected. Visit when you can expect the least number of people in that particular store and spend as little time there as possible.

Whether or not wearing a mask is mandatory in that store or that area, it’s in your best interest to do so. Larger respiratory droplets that carry COVID-19 are better contained when people are masked, and hence, the risk decreases for everyone.

“If you think about standing out in the cold and the fact that you can see your breath when you talk, you get a general idea of how many droplets are hanging in the air when we walk around,” Poston said. 

Best practices for shopping and using a dressing room.

Besides social distancing, it’s important to sanitize your hands when you enter and leave the store. 

The risk of transmission from packages, shopping bags and other surfaces is relatively lower than initially thought, but it’s still a good idea to avoid touching too many surfaces.

Lang suggests wiping down the handles of carts and baskets with sanitizer before and after using them. “This reduces the risk that you could leave behind any infectious particles for others if you are infectious and don’t know it yet.”

Touch your phone as little as possible. “Many times, people are careful about not touching their faces, but they touch their phone and then hold their phone to their face,” Poston said.

And opt for digital transactions as much as possible, instead of handling cash.

Sanitize new clothes when you get home.

Set new clothes aside for at least two days, long enough some experts think for the virus to become inactive. “The longest I have seen that the virus stays alive on objects is 48 hours,” Poston said.

Then, wash your clothes before wearing them, making sure to clean your hands as well after putting the clothes in the washing machine. You can also use some bleach while washing the clothes to eliminate the risk of COVID-19. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises “using the warmest appropriate water setting” while washing clothes. If you don’t own a washing machine, hand washing in the hottest possible water is recommended. 

Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.

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