Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.


What to know about food deliveries, handling cash, loss of taste and COVID-19 in Cape Girardeau

A shopper enters Schnucks in Cape Girardeau on Wednesday morning, April 8. The grocery store, like others in the area, is regulating the number of people allowed in at a time in order to encourage appropriate social distancing.
Jon Rust ~ Southeast Missourian

With federal health authorities encouraging the wearing of masks in public, I made my first trip to the grocery store in one. It was from a batch of masks bought years ago from a hardware store for a home project. I'm not sure how much protection it actually has against the coronavirus, but it certainly provides a reminder not to touch eyes, nose or mouth. I matched the mask with disposable gloves from a box I originally bought for disinfecting doorknobs around the office.

Wearing them felt awkward at first. I was self-conscious. But it was amazing how quickly I got over it. Thanks go to the employees in the two stores where I stopped. I thanked one deli worker in somewhat of a mumble, "I'm smiling at you beneath my mask." It felt appropriate, though I'm not sure why I did it. He smiled "back."

Such a strange, alien world we're in.

Several grocery stores have set up special hours for elderly shoppers, which are listed on the semissourian.com COVID-19 resource page. All are encouraging social distancing when inside. Some are using stickers and other signage to show people where to stand when waiting. Most, including the neighborhood Wal Mart, are regulating the number of people allowed in at a time. New features, like at Schnucks, include plexiglass shields in the checkout lanes.

Near closing time, Sam's Club was largely vacant. It was a great time to shop. I tried to scan items on its "scan-and-go" app, but kept forgetting. So I emptied the virtual cart and just handled items like usual at the self-serve checkout. A helpful employee sanitized the price gun just before I used it (and I was glad, even with gloves).

Let me add my thanks to the chorus of others expressing appreciation to everyone who works in a grocery store, whatever the role. Thank you for your commitment.

Food safety was a common theme to several of the questions I received last week, especially as the governor of Missouri ordered residents to stay inside except for essential reasons: such as grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy and walking (but not congregating) outside.

But first, I want to share what the White House's coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx said at a news briefing over the weekend.

"This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe," Birx said.

What this means is that you should avoid any unnecessary trips where you will interact with others. If you need groceries, shop. But do it as infrequently as possible -- and follow the social distancing guidelines.

Here are the questions. Most of the answers, except otherwise noted, come from Maria Davis, health educator with the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center.

Should I wash my groceries?

"You should wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them," Davis wrote in an email. "Also, wash your hands after handling food packaging, after removing food from packaging, before you prepare food, and before you eat. If you wash your groceries, you need to be careful not to chemically contaminate food, which can make you ill."

A few articles I read recently talked about some people who washed food with soap or detergent -- even bleach -- and getting very sick. Don't do that.

Is take-out food safe?

"According to the FDA, there is no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with spreading COVID-19," Davis wrote. "COVID-19 can survive on surfaces; therefore, you should wash your hands after handling packaging and before eating."

Is there anything special I should do when delivery food arrives?

"The CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask when you have to be around others to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Avoid as much contact as possible with the person bringing you the food and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer afterward. You should also wash your hands after handling food packaging and before eating," Davis wrote.

Is handling cash safe?

"COVID-19 can survive on surfaces, including cash," she wrote. "Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after handling cash."

How do you know whether you have COVID-19 but show no symptoms?

The fact not all with coronavirus show symptoms initially (or have any major symptoms at all) is a critical reason for social distancing.

Until tests are more readily available, we won't know for sure who has or had the disease. In some places, according to former Food and Drug Administration chief Scott Gottlieb, who has authored a plan being discussed in Washington about how best to move to the next stage in the fight against COVID-19, new antibody or serology tests, which involve testing proteins in the blood, are already being implemented to identify those who were infected but recovered. This is important, because if someone already had the virus and is no longer infectious, then they have some level of immunity (which needs to be understood more precisely, Gottlieb says) and can interact with others safely, provide plasma for treatment, and return to work.

Such tests are unlikely to make it to Cape Girardeau soon, though, as along with new rapid COVID-19 tests that can provide diagnostic results in minutes, they are being directed to national hot spots first. But they'll be here eventually. When they come, we should welcome them.

Finally, a study in the U.K suggests that if tests are not available, a loss of smell and taste could be a possible way to detect whether some people have contracted the virus.

"A research team at King's College London assessed the responses of more than 400,000 people reporting one or more suspected symptoms of COVID-19 to an app," CNBC reported. "The data analyzed showed that 59% of those who tested positive for the virus reported a loss of smell and taste, compared with only 18% of who tested negative for the disease. These results, the researchers said, were 'much stronger' in predicting positive COVID-19 diagnoses than a self-reported fever."

The CDC has not accepted "loss of smell and taste" as an official marker, but it is something to be aware of, especially absent allergies or other usual suspects.

For more information about coronavirus in Southeast Missouri, visit the resource section of the Southeast Missourian COVID-19 page. In the meantime, if you see me at the grocery store in a mask, please know I'm smiling at you, even as we keep our distance.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.