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driving concerns

If you really need gas, don’t let viral rumours keep you from filling up.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Is going to the gas station dangerous right now? I’ve read online that COVID-19 is spreading quickly at gas pumps because they get used by so many people. Should I avoid getting gas?

If you really need gas, don’t let viral rumours keep you from filling up.

Touching a gas pump likely isn’t any riskier right now than touching door handles, bank machines or anything else that gets touched by a lot of other people.

“Those surfaces are like any surfaces – they’re potential sources of infection,” says David Evans, a virologist and professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta. “When you get home, make sure the first thing you do is wash your hands.”

It’s still not clear how long SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, lasts on surfaces.

One recent study showed that SARS-CoV-2 survives for “about 6 or 7 hours” on steel and plastic, Evans says.

But, studies of other coronaviruses showed they could live on glass, metal and plastic surfaces for days.

if somebody coughs on their hand and then touches the handle of a gas pump, they could be leaving viruses there for the next person who uses the pump.

“They will disappear with time, but you do have to be careful,” Evans says. “Realistically, it’s the things that get touched the most often that you have to worry about.”

Just having the virus on your hands won’t get you sick – it needs to get into your mucous membranes, including your eyes, nose and mouth, Evans says.

That’s why, when you’ve been out touching things or people, you shouldn’t touch your face until you’ve washed your hands properly.

If you can’t wash your hands, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wipes.

Pump precautions?

Consumer Reports suggests wearing disposable nitrate gloves or cleaning the pump handle and payment pad with disinfecting wipes before you use them.

But, it says “just cleaning your hands after you’re done seems like the quickest, easiest precaution.”

That’s something you should be doing anyway, even if you used gloves and wipes.

So, right now, are gas stations cleaning handles and other things that get regularly touched?

“It really depends on the company, but I know our members are doing it hourly, at a minimum,” says Jennifer Stewart, president and CEO of the Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents about 80 per cent of gas retailers in Canada. “And many are making hand sanitizer available and adopting protective shields to protect their own workers inside the stores.”

Paying at the pump, if you can, is another way to keep physical distance from people inside the store, Evans says.

With increasing calls to stay home, should you be avoiding the gas station entirely?

“I wouldn’t take unnecessary trips right now,” Evans says, “But if you’re using your car to get groceries and your car’s low on gas, then you need gas.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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