The two-year onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing with the rise of the Delta and Omicron variants, has taken center stage in every aspect of life, not the least of which is the consumer world.
While vaccinations have helped re-open the door to public interaction, the virus still spreads, deaths mount, and many customers are more concerned than ever about infection prevention, says Tricia Holderman (www.triciaholderman.com), author of Germinator: The Germ Girl’s Guide To Simple Solutions In A Germ-Filled World.
As more people dine out, travel, fill sports venues and go to malls, Holderman says customers have higher expectations of businesses and venues in terms of sanitation and cleanliness – but at the same time, they play a bigger part in protecting themselves in the outside world.
“The COVID-19 pandemic got a lot of people thinking about germs, maybe for the first time ever,” says Holderman, also the CEO of Elite Facility Systems, a healthcare cleaning company specializing in infection prevention and control.
“One of the biggest impacts of COVID-19 is that our customer experience has changed. Safety is now the central theme of the customer journey. The question ‘Do I feel safe?’ is the first thing many people consider before going into a store or restaurant, attending an event, staying in a hotel or getting on an airplane.
“Pro and college sports, business leaders, airlines, the hospitality sector and public officials are taking many precautions to keep everyone safe. But what is sufficient? And what can you do to keep yourself safe when you’re out or traveling? There’s a lot people need to know about self-protection from germs in the outside world that they never considered before COVID.”
Holderman offers these tips to keep yourself – and others – safe when you’re out and about:
- Mind your stuff. Holderman says the simple things are vital, like not putting eye glasses on a table or other surface – and then back on your face after they may have picked up germs from the surface. “Keep a case handy,” she says. She advises keeping sanitizing wipes with you wherever you go, wiping down anything of yours that you or others may have touched, like credit cards.
- Be smart when using public transportation. “If you know you will be riding a bus or train, carry a travel-sized pack of disinfecting wipes and wipe down anything you can,” Holderman says. “Try to open the window near you for better air circulation.”
- Beware the bins at airport checkpoints. A trip can get off to a bad start, Holderman says, as early as the security checkpoint, where germs linger in a place people don’t think much about. “Do you want to know a really disgusting secret?” she says. “Those plastic bins where you put your valuables for inspection are never washed. If you want to keep germs off of those items, bring something protective to put them in. I bring a one-gallon zip-top food storage bag.”
- Check sanitation protocols and be watchful. “This means restaurants, stores, salons, spas and gyms in particular,” Holderman says. “Even if they pass, you have to be on alert. At all places, take your own wipes and hand sanitizer and don’t be afraid to use them. One of my least favorite things before the pandemic was the way restaurants cleaned their tables. Somebody would walk around the restaurant with a rag and a bucket of water and use that same rag and dirty water to wipe down every single table. The pandemic hopefully changed that everywhere.” She says if a drink is garnished with fruit or a vegetable, do not under any circumstance put it in your drink. “Why?” she says. “Most of these garnishes are not washed.”
- Be your own maid during your hotel stay. Once again, Holderman says hand sanitizer and wipes are your weapons. Upon entering the hotel room, she says start by disinfecting the remote, toilet, and sink handles. Do not walk barefoot. “The hotel carpets are rarely cleaned,” she says. “And I always decline housekeeping. I have my own wipers and disinfectant, I know which areas I’m going to touch and I want to make sure those are as clean as they can be.”
“Unlike your home, you can’t control what happens in the outside world,” Holderman says. “It’s full of surfaces you can’t clean and air you can’t not breathe and people who maybe aren’t as obsessed with cleanliness as you are.”
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