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Virologist's Advice: When Grocery Shopping This Holiday, 'Be Fast, Be Efficient'

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An employee scans items behind a protective shield at a grocery store in in Little Tokyo. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)
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L.A. County Public Health officials today reported more than 11,000 new cases of COVID-19, with hospitalizations soaring 500% in recent days.

Among the places seeing spikes in people testing positive: grocery stores.

An L.A. Times analysis of the county’s website found outbreaks reported in December at three Trader Joe’s locations, two Whole Foods Market stores, three Sprouts Farmers Market branches and several smaller grocery chains.

Those getting sick are mostly essential workers who must report every day — underscoring the push by some cities to offer hazard or "hero pay" for grocery store employees. For people who are shopping, the high numbers beg the question: Just how safe is it to go shopping at the market?

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In short: It’s fine, but have a plan, says USC virologist Paula Cannon.

“Be fast, be efficient. Imagine you have a toddler with you having a temper tantrum. You don’t need to sort of peruse which particular produce you want. Just go in an grab stuff and get out.”

If you typically go shopping three times a week, just go once a week. And when you’re there, be respectful, Cannon told us.

“There is nothing worse than when you see people wandering around looking at their phone and they kind of bump into you," she said.

Her advice applies to holiday shopping as well.

“We’ve got very high rates [in LA County],” says Cannon. “The past 7 days, we’ve probably had 98,000 people reported as infected, and I was doing the math, and it’s basically about 1% of L.A. County’s population — think about that. They’re the cases we know about that."

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But if you are going to go out and shop, do think of others. If you have an older neighbor or relative in a high risk group, offer to do their shopping for them.

“Especially at this time of year,” Cannon says. “What a nice to say to them, give me your list and I’ll do it for you — just don’t judge my choice of oranges.”

Listen to Professor Paula Cannon's complete interview with our newsroom local culture and news show, Take Two, which airs on 89.3 KPCC. A Martinez talked to her not only about grocery shopping in the pandemic, but also about the new strains of coronavirus being reported in Britain and elsewhere:

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