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To buy/sell or not to buy/sell: Guidance for those still doing business online during COVID-19 outbreak

Facebook has emerged as a popular place to buy and sell items, but it often leads to people exchanging in person

FORT WORTH, Texas — Like so many of us, Krystal Sample-Mayerchak says buying and selling items through Facebook was a huge part of her life before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“Constantly,” she said of how often she bought and sold on Facebook. “Twelve-foot Christmas trees, yard decorations. I’ve sold furniture.”

In recent years, Facebook has emerged as a popular place for person-to-person commerce, with its public Marketplace as well as smaller buy/sell groups. But the ease in which people have bought, sold and met up with each other in the past has been replaced with a necessary dose of caution, as people try to avoid coming into contact with the infectious virus.

While Sample-Mayerchak hasn’t stopped buying and selling on Facebook during the crisis, she has changed the way in which she’s conducting that kind of business. The substitute teacher from Fort Worth said she’s taking human contact out of the equation. She makes arrangements to pick up or leave items in a place where no one has to come into contact with each other, and only takes online payment.

“Everything’s on the porch, everything’s digital. I’m not even taking cash. Venmo, PayPal, Apple Pay,” she said. 

That's in accordance with current local guidelines; while Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said buying and selling online was permitted, the city of Fort Worth said Monday in their city "all transactions must be conducted in accordance with social distancing protocol under the latest declaration. Thus, no in-person transactions – i.e. leave/pick-up on doorstep."

Those are smart decisions, said Dr. Diana Cervantes, an epidemiologist at UNT Health Science Center, who’s consulted for the state on prior global outbreaks.

Here are Dr. Cervantes’ tips for safe buying and selling:

  • Maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing and consider using a porch for pick up/drop off
  • Don’t shake hands or make personal contact
  • Avoid accepting cash (online payment methods preferred) and if you do, leave it in a plastic bag for a couple days
  • Clean and disinfect the item before using it
    • If an item is difficult to clean, don’t buy it
    • Cloth items should go through the washer and dryer
  • Wash your hands after handling any item or cash

“Any surfaces are pretty much are going to be susceptible to being contaminated,” Dr. Cervantes said. “It can survive on paper. It can survive on plastic.”

Dr. Cervantes said people in high-risk groups, like pregnant women and the elderly, should abstain for now from any activities that put them in contact with others, but said in general, buying and selling online poses a similar risk to going to the grocery store.

“You just have to be sure you’re being careful just as you would when you go to a store,” she said.

Some people WFAA spoke to Monday expressed concerns about the unnecessary interaction and possible risk that comes with buying and selling online and exchanging items for money. Facebook Marketplace is still open for business, but some smaller buy/sell groups have taken steps to limit sales during this tumultuous time. 

Victoria Wollmann Wise, who runs five buy/sell groups on Facebook in the Fort Worth area, said this Monday:
“We posted a notice at the top of all our Buy/Sell groups that all sales are suspended and to follow local order to stay at home. We also noted that we have no way of enforcing this but are encouraging members not to sell or pick up at this time.”

Poshmark, a web site where people buy clothing items from sellers and the sellers ship them, addressed the question of whether it’s still safe to ship and receive packages. They posted online that “you can continue to ship and receive packages, according to today’s guidance from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Surgeon General and the Public Health Agency of Canada.”

For some people, selling items online is a source of income in an uncertain time.

Samlple-Mayerchak said she has indeed seen a slow-down in the amount of people buying and selling on Facebook, but she too believes doing it safely is okay.

“Whatever you bring into your home, you’re going to wash. I now soak all my produce in a produce wash before I put it away,” she said.

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