Plastic bags may be making a comeback during coronavirus outbreak

Reusable grocery bags are a staple in many households and have been for years -- but because of the coronavirus, plastic bags may be making a comeback, at least temporarily.

“I don’t really use disposable,” Stephen Taylor said Wednesday, echoing the concerns of many other shoppers. “You know, sterile purposes, trying to keep it clean. You don’t want to keep bags in your house.”

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Officials in many cities and states across the country share Taylor’s concern. In places like Illinois and Massachusetts, residents have been asked to stop using reusable bags altogether in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

Locally, D.C. officials said they’re not currently enforcing their bag tax. And in Montgomery County, a bill that would’ve temporarily rescinded their bag tax was talked about before being taken off the table Wednesday night.

Experts said the precautions may be a good idea.

Dr. Rodrigo Hasbun, an infectious disease specialist at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston, explained that while we don’t know for sure, it is possible that the coronavirus could spread through the use of reusable bags.

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“I think it’s reasonable to do a temporary ban,” he said. “Right now there’s no studies linking reusable bags to coronavirus cases, but again that could change in the future once we have more studies.”

Jade Flinn, a nurse educator in the biocontainment unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said she agreed.

“Using the single-use bags for right now would be the best option because we don’t have a good way of disinfecting reusable bags in a thorough and systematic way.”

Still, if shoppers choose to continue reusing bags instead, there are some precautions they can take. Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles recommended “a number of strategies for using reusable bags including washing them between use, customers packing their own reusable bags at check out and frequently cleaning surfaces in bagging areas.”

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