This post will attempt to answer the questions:
- Should I wear gloves when I go out?
- If not, who should wear gloves and when?
This weekend, the CDC and the Federal Government came out with recommendations for people to wear masks when going out to public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community spread. In my post last week (Are you infected without knowing it) I explained the rationale for this recommendation. A significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”). This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. This led to the following logic:
- If there are many asymptomatic carriers of infection,
- Those people could be spreading the disease without knowing,
- Therefore if everyone wears mask those unsuspecting individuals would spread the infection less.
As an aside, the masks are not there to protect you from them but to protect them from you in the event that you are contagious without knowing.
So wearing masks is important to halt the spread of disease and I have seen people out in the grocery store wearing masks which is a good thing. I have also seen people wearing gloves which I believe is not a good thing. I do not blame people for thinking wearing gloves protects themselves as well. They are making the valid but untrue logical conclusion that if masks are protective, so are gloves. This assumption is supported by all the pictures of healthcare workers wearing masks and gloves.
But here’s why I don’t think gloves are a good idea:
FIrst, the virus can get onto gloves just as easily as it gets onto hands. Gloves do not protect you or anyone else from getting the virus.
Second, and most importantly, gloves give people the false sense that they are protected. This will lead them to clean their hands less frequently.
The end result is that the gloves may actually increase your risk of getting and spreading the infection. I’ll say that again…
Gloves may actually increase your risk of getting and spreading the infection.
This may raise some questions. The first is, why is the same thing not true of masks? Why are masks good but gloves are not? Masks are different because the mouth and nose are the main sources of spreading infection. A surgical or homemade cotton mask is very good at catching respiratory droplets before they can be spread by coughing, sneezing, breathing, or talking. Masks also cause people to touch their face less frequently decreasing the risk of those droplets leading to disease.
The second question is, why are gloves so important in healthcare settings if they are not good in regular settings? The answer has to do with the way we wear gloves in the hospital. Gloves are an essential means of preventing the spread of infection but only if used in the following way:
- Only one set of gloves is used for each patient interaction. We do not wear gloves all the time throughout the hospital.
- We sanitize our hands prior to putting the gloves on, take care of the patients, take the gloves off, and then sanitize our hands again as we leave the patient’s room. This prevents both what is on our hands being transferred to the patient and what is on the patient from being transferred to our hands (and to other patients).
At home, there is a important role for using gloves when taking care of a patient who has or is suspected to have COVID-19 but it must be done with the above procedure. If you are caring for a loved one at home who cannot care for themselves, this procedure will prevent the spread through the house. Wash, glove, care for the person, deglove, and wash again.
The bottom line is that there is a solid rationale for recommendations that you should wear a mask when going out. Don’t forget that masks are not a substitute for physical distancing but an extra layer of protection in addition to keeping your distance. But please leave the gloves at home.