Avoiding COVID-19 at the grocery store: What happens when you get to the PIN pad?

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Jeff Perrin tries to avoid germs at the grocery store. He slips on winter gloves, pull out his mobile-pay app and saddles up to the cash register.

But then he has to slip those same gloves off so he can type into the pin pad. He knows he’s not the only customer who touched the surface that day. 

Perrin lives in Chittenden County and frequents shopping spots like Hannaford and Price Chopper. He’s observed grocery stores enforce social distancing to minimize the spread of COVID-19, a disease related to the coronavirus that initially impacted people in China toward the end of last year. One striking issue is the lack of sanitation at the PIN pad, where people often swipe their cards to pay for their items. 

“If you’re waiting in line, you can see what’s going on,” he said. “They’re not being disinfected in between customer transactions.” 

He prefers to go contactless, using Apple Pay, and tries to wear gloves. 

But he often has to touch the surface directly when entering his PIN, if the buttons are too small, for example. Perrin expects that fully-contactless payments, in which the customers don’t have to touch the PIN pads and can conduct the payment through their phones, would be popular. 

“I’m sure a lot of people who have that capability would take advantage of that…” he said. “For people who don’t have that capability, you know, then that’s where regular disinfecting of the PIN pads would come into play.”

This might not be feasible for all retailers. 

What’s being done at stores to address COVID-19

Retailers might have different credit card processors, so contactless payments across Vermont grocery stores could be tough to ensure, according to Erin Sigrist, president of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association

Members of the association include City Market, Hannaford and Price Chopper.

Retailers contract with credit card processors, she said. Some of these contracts might entail using the PIN pad. 

“It’s really dependent on the credit card processor and what’s available to retailers,” she said. 

The association is encouraging retailers to do what they can, she said. But she also suggested potential options for customers, like wrapping tissues around their fingers or packing their own pens. 

Vermont doesn’t have particular instructions regarding PIN pads for retailers and grocers, according to an email from the COVID-19 Joint Information Center.

“Anecdotally, we are hearing measures are being put in place at the store level to have people keep their distance at checkout and people wearing gloves while shopping,” the email read. 

But the stores are more generally being encouraged to keep up with social distancing protocols, as recommended by sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Grocery stores are considered critical businesses in the state. 

Mobile pay is your best bet when navigating the grocery stores, according to USA TODAY. This isn’t always an option. If this is the case for you: Opt for card over cash.

“Even before the virus outbreak, studies showed paper money can harbor thousands of microbes from various environments,” according to the article. 

You’ll want to refrain from touching your mouth, eyes and nose after handling the PIN pad and either sanitize or wash your hands. 

Contact Maleeha Syed at mzsyed@freepressmedia.com or 802-495-6595. Follow her on Twitter @MaleehaSyed89

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