You snuck out to the grocery store during “nonpeak hours” to avoid the crowd, but it seems every work-from-home employee had the same idea, so now you find yourself standing in a very long checkout line.


And then someone nearby coughs.

Even though you’re wearing a mask and standing 6 feet away from the person in front of you, you can’t help but wonder if you could get COVID-19 while standing in a line like this.

As with many things COVID-19 related, the real question isn’t if it’s possible to get the virus this way, but is it likely. And the answer to that is: probably not.


Although the science regarding exactly how SARS-CoV-2 spreads continues to evolve, we know one way the virus can spread is through “close contact” (closer than 6 feet apart) over a sustained period of time (15 minutes or longer).

Standing in line at a grocery store likely does not put you in close contact with someone for more than 15 minutes at a time, which is why many experts consider grocery shopping to be a low-risk activity. Of course, this assumes that everyone is wearing a mask properly and staying 6 feet apart.

If you’re concerned about picking up the virus while standing on line, you can take extra precautions, such as:

  • Maintain more than 6 feet of social distance; go for 10 feet, if it makes you feel more comfortable
  • Don’t linger and chitchat with the cashier (this is the main situation that can put you in close, face-to-face contact with another person while shopping)
  • If you must speak to someone, turn your head away so you’re not directly inhaling their breath as they talk

Picking up COVID-19 while standing in line inside a store probably isn’t very likely, but you should take all the usual precautions to avoid the possibility, anyway.