Posted on: April 8, 2020 at 3:11 pm

As the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States continues to intensify, citizens everywhere are looking for ways they can protect themselves from the virus. For many, wearing some kind of protective equipment when they leave their homes, such as a face mask, offers them an additional layer of protection, and therefore peace of mind.

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Another trend that has become popular is wearing gloves, particularly to places like grocery stores, where it is more difficult to maintain proper social distancing, and where touching things is unavoidable.

While this may sound like a good idea in theory, in this type of setting gloves are relatively ineffective at preventing the spread of the virus, and may even make things worse.

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Why are Gloves Ineffective?

The novel coronavirus enters your body through your mouth, nose, and eyes, not your hands. That being said, you can pick up the virus on your hands by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face. According to microbiologist Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D.,  this is just as likely to happen whether you have gloves on or not. 

“The adhesive properties of viruses differ among viruses; it’s possible the coronavirus could adhere to the latex gloves better than it could adhere to your own skin,” she explains [1].

Additionally, she says that wearing gloves gives some people a false sense of security, and may cause them to neglect proper handwashing. While you could easily wash your hands or clean them with a squirt of hand sanitizer between errands, if you are not changing your gloves every time you move to a new location, you could be effectively spreading the virus even more.

On top of that, many people do not know how to properly remove gloves. Without following the proper steps to take them off, you are rendering completely useless. According to Reynolds, even some healthcare providers do not remove gloves properly.

“Taking gloves off right isn’t a trivial thing,” she says. “We’ve done studies observing healthcare workers and how they remove the gloves, and about 30 percent do it wrong—and they’ve been trained.” [1]

Read: Don’t Just Avoid the Virus — Help Defeat It by Strengthening Your Immunity

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Who Should and Shouldn’t Wear Gloves?

As is the case with face masks, there is a lot of confusion surrounding why gloves are necessary for healthcare workers, but not for the general public.

In the case of gloves, the difference comes down to the setting in which they are used. Healthcare workers do not walk around from room to room wearing gloves. Instead, they only wear them when they are working directly with a patient, and then they remove those gloves and discard them before leaving that room. The germs that may have gotten on those gloves don’t get carried throughout the hospital.

Dr. Karan Raj from the UK shared a video on social media, describing how wearing gloves to the supermarket can worsen the spread of the virus. Imagine you get germs on your gloves while at the grocery store, then get into your car and drive away with those gloves still on. Now you have them on your steering wheel, your door handle, your keys, and anything else you may have touched. You will carry those germs with you the rest of the day as you continue to wear those gloves, increasing the risk of transferring them to yourself and others.

“Your glove is now more full of germs than your hand would have been if you had washed each time,” said Raj. “And then when you’re changing your gloves, you might be actually touching the glove itself.” [2]

What does he recommend instead?

Just wash your hands, be sensible, stay safe.” [2]

Both the CDC and the WHO recommends only those working in healthcare settings wear gloves since the inappropriate use of them could lead to an increased spread of germs. Both organizations stress the importance of proper removal and insist that gloves are never reused, and are discarded immediately after use [3,4].

It is incredibly important for healthcare workers to have access to gloves because they are coming in direct contact with the virus on a daily basis. When worn properly, gloves not only help protect them but help to prevent them from spreading germs to other patients in the hospital. 

As healthcare facilities across the country are grappling with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), it is more important now than ever before to ensure that the general public is not taking the necessary PPE away from frontline healthcare workers.

How to Wear Gloves Properly

If you insist on wearing gloves for your own peace of mind, it is crucial that you wear them, and dispose of them, properly. The CDC has released a guide for how to properly remove gloves to prevent the spread of germs.

The guide uses illustrations to demonstrate how to remove the gloves without touching the outside portion that has come into contact with germs. It also stresses the importance of washing your hands immediately after removing the gloves to ensure that no germs are left behind.

“If you’re not disposing of them properly, you’re just potentially contaminating more surfaces and putting yourself at a much higher risk,” says Reynolds [1].

Read: Heartbreaking Pics of Overworked Doctors are Going Viral, Proving that They Too Have Human Limits

Tips for Safe Grocery Shopping

If you are experiencing anxiety when going to the grocery store, you’re not alone. As the fear of the virus continues to grow, many people are unsure how to keep themselves safe when they must leave their homes, especially in an environment like a supermarket where social distancing guidelines are harder to follow.

Recent research has determined that the virus can survive on surfaces for anywhere from three hours to up to three days, which can make a grocery store seem like a terrifying place. According to Chrysan Cronin, DrPH, MPH, a professor of public health at Muhlenberg College who teaches Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Occupational and Environmental Health, this data has been taken out of context.

“The virus may last that long on surfaces, but there is only a very small percentage of viral particles left (less than 0.1%) after a few days, so it’s highly unlikely to cause infection,” she says [5].

She also adds that conditions in a lab are much different from a grocery store, and that aerosolized particles used in lab studies are much lighter and smaller than those that would come out of a person’s mouth or nose when they cough or sneeze. These particles last much longer in the air in a lab setting when compared to a grocery store [5].

Another misconception is that people should leave their groceries in their car or garage for three days before bringing them into the house to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but again, Cronin says that this is unnecessary.

“There is no evidence that suggests that the virus has been or can be transmitted from groceries. The probability of this is extremely low,” she says [5].

That being said, while grocery bags and even the groceries themselves may not be carriers of the virus, you can still pick up the virus at the supermarket. 

“Certainly following good hygiene habits is crucial. Don’t go shopping if you’re sick, wipe down the cart with a sanitizing wipe, wash or sanitize your hands when you’re done, and physically distance yourself from others as much as you can in the store,” says Cronin.

She also says that you do not have to wipe down all of your purchases once you’ve brought them home, nor do you have to wash your produce for twenty seconds in soapy water. 

Both the FDA and the CDC have stated that there is no evidence that food or food packaging is associated with the transmission of COVID-19. While you could touch a contaminated surface or object and then transfer the virus to yourself by touching your mouth, this is not the main way the virus spreads [6].

Cronin advises that everyone simply wash their hands after putting their groceries away, and continue to wash their produce as they normally would, by thoroughly rinsing it with cold water [5].

Read: Former CDC Chief: Vitamin D May Reduce The Risk Of Coronavirus Infection

Wash. Your. Hands.

As we continue to learn more about the virus, how it spreads, and how it can be destroyed, there is one thing that remains abundantly clear: washing your hands thoroughly and frequently is the most important step you can take to protect yourself from the virus.

Proper handwashing, along with social distancing, is currently our best defense against the spread of COVID-19, and nothing- not a face mask, gloves, or disinfecting spray- can replace them.

The best thing you can do during times like these is to follow the guidelines that have been laid out by public health authorities. Stay home, and only leave your house when you absolutely need to. When you do go out, do your best to maintain a distance of at least six feet from others, avoid touching your face, and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

While this may not feel like you’re actively doing anything to help, this is the only way we can slow down the spread of the virus, and the sooner everyone cooperates, the sooner we will be able to return to our normal lives.

Keep Reading: How To Protect Yourself From COVID-19 According To A Lung Doctor

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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