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Q: I have to leave the house for essential errands. What's the best way to stay safe?

A: Your travels outside the home during the pandemic can put you at risk for exposure to COVID-19, so the first rule of thumb is to make sure your trips are being made out of necessity. Grocery runs, physician appointments, pharmacy visits, caregiving functions, veterinary care and financial activities are examples of essential trips. Other excursions outside the home should probably be reconsidered. In addition, if you are considered to be high risk for complications of COVID-19 (over 65 or with chronic health problems or pregnant), you should be especially selective about making trips outside the home. If there is anyone who is not high risk who is available to help you with errands, please ask them for your own health.

When buying groceries, wear a cloth face mask and carry disinfectant wipes to clean the surfaces you touch: carts, display case door handles, register card readers, etc. Alternatively, carry sanitizer to clean your hands after using high-touch objects. Stay 6 feet away from others as much as possible, and keep your trips as short as possible. Shop early in the morning to avoid crowds, and take advantage of delivery or pickup services where they're offered.

You'll need to visit the gas station to refill your tank at some point. Avoid entering the store unnecessarily. Use wipes to clean the pump handle and the card reader, and wear a mask to protect yourself and others while filling up. Similar recommendations apply for bank visits: avoid entering the building and use the ATM machine to conduct your transactions whenever possible. Use wipes to clean the surfaces of the machine before and after use.

Call prescriptions into the pharmacy before visiting so medications are ready for pickup upon arrival. Return to the store at another time if you find a long line at the counter, or use the drive-thru window for pickup, wiping the surfaces you touch before and after use. Wear your mask whether you enter the store or use the drive-thru window.

It may be necessary for a technician to enter your home for other services such as air conditioning, utility or appliance repair. Call the business to discuss their policies for ensuring your safety before scheduling a service call. If your assigned service technician does not appear to be in compliance with stated policy (such as not wearing a mask), deny them entry into your home and politely ask to be rescheduled.

When returning from your trips, wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Use your best judgment when running your errands, and always err on the side of caution. For additional information or questions you may have about COVID-19, call the Hamilton County Health Department COVID-19 Hotline at 423-209-8383 or visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html.

— Dr. Paul Hendricks is health officer for the Hamilton County Health Department and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.

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Contributed Photo / Dr. Paul Hendricks
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