Black Friday shopping at germ city? Here’s your survival guide. Wading into a mob scene can carry health risks

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 28, 2019

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Novant Health

The thrill of Black Friday gets adrenaline pumping for those brave enough to brave cold temperatures and stand in lines waiting for stores to open. Each person has the same goal in mind: to get the best deals.

While those steals might help save a dollar, it can come at the cost of your health as you wade into a world of germs, stress and hassles that can feel like running an obstacle course.

Dr. Maria Rivell, an internal medicine physician at Novant Health Family and Internal Medicine South Brunswick in Carolina Shores, breaks down what bargain-hunters should know in preparing for Black Friday shopping and how they can protect themselves and their health in the long run.

1. Deals are everywhere … and so are germs

Any crowded area presents a high chance to pick up bacteria or viruses. On Black Friday, that’s any mall or store. People are touching everything or are in confined areas where coughs and sneezes are never a good sign.

Studies have found that the amount of bacteria present on an elevator button is almost 40 times higher than on a public toilet seat. Escalator handrails, shopping cart handles and ATM keypads are more places that bacteria and germs are often found.

One minute your hand is on one of these germy surfaces, the next minute you’re rubbing an eye or putting your hand near your mouth and flirting with a nasty cold or virus.

Rivell recommends carrying around hand sanitizer at all times, if possible.

“After touching something that’s so frequently used, it’s a good practice to just go ahead and sanitize right after,” she said. “But it can’t hurt to also sanitize after being around people who have been coughing or sneezing. When in doubt, sanitize.”

Always take note of if a store offers sanitizing wipes at the entrance and if they do, wipe down the handle before using a shopping cart.

While some of these steps may strike the brave as over the top, Rivell said they beat picking up the flu or other bug that could make you miserable for days.

2. The stress of finding the ‘perfect present’

If people decide to go shopping on Black Friday, the best ways to reduce stress are to have a plan and a time limit, Rivell said.

“Make a list of what you want and stick to that list,” Rivell said. “A list will help keep you focused on what you came for and it will help map out the priorities for the shopping trip.”

Setting time limits on dedicated shopping time will also help limit anxiety. “I understand that finding the perfect present can be stressful and people look all over for it,” Rivell said. “But it’s important to set limits and give yourself a break somewhere in that time. Have a plan to shop for two or three hours and make sure to give yourself a mental break from it all.”

The one thing Rivell encourages all people to do — focus on the true meaning of holidays.

“The holidays should be focused on family time and not on surrounding your kids with expensive toys,” she said. “This is time away from work and spending time with family or loved ones is the best kind of gift you could give them.”

3. Staying warm in the door-busters line

Lines form well in advance at stores with the biggest blowout sales with many people waiting through the night in frigid temperatures.

“The most important thing people could do to stay warm is to dress in layers,” Rivell said. “Gloves, mittens, scarves, jackets and toboggans are all something to bring if planning to be out in the cold. You’d rather have too much than not enough. If a person doesn’t keep their body temperature up, it can lead to hypothermia, which can lead to a lot of serious health issues.”

It’s crucial to cover every inch of skin possible when the temperatures are so low, Rivell advised. Take extra steps when it’s windy, she added.

If you’re going to be outside a lot that day, sunscreen is still important. “Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean that you can’t get sunburned,” Rivell said. Sunscreen should still be used, even if the SPF is built into makeup or moisturizer. Some screen protection is better than none.”

4. Why drinking water matters

In the hustle and bustle to get to the next biggest deal, people often forget to pause and drink water to stay hydrated.

When you get dehydrated, the body struggles to function as it should. Signs of dehydration include rapid heartbeat, confusion, irritability, headaches and in some cases, people faint. The more you hydrate, she said, the better you cope.

If experiencing any of the above symptoms or you realize that you haven’t been getting enough fluids, Rivell says to grab a bottle of water and keep it with you.

Out of convenience, people often turn to soda or a sugary drink when out, but Rivell advises against it.

“Typically we tell people to drink six to eight 8-oz. cups of water a day, but even drinking half of that portion helps prevent dehydration,” Rivell said.