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The urge to wear gloves is an understandable one, particularly now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised Americans to wear cloth face coverings in public settings to help slow the spread of COVID-19. For some, it’s a matter of seeking a fully protective ensemble while grocery shopping or taking a walk; for others, such as essential workers, it’s a recommended part of the job. To practice preventative measures, you’d want to cover as much of yourself as possible, right? But, just as face masks and coverings require rigorous adherence to doctor-recommended best practices, gloves must be worn with care.
In order for gloves to be effective as personal protective equipment (PPE), you have to be extremely diligent in changing and disposing of them. While the CDC doesn’t recommend wearing gloves as it does cloth face coverings, many people are nevertheless using them. If you fall into that category, it’s imperative to educate yourself on how to do so properly.
To learn more, Allure spoke to health care experts, who offered guidance on when, where, and how to wear gloves.
Ask Yourself: Can I Wear Gloves Responsibly?
If you work in an industry deemed essential or live in an area heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a high chance you have observed people wearing gloves. Before you jump to buy a box of disposable latex ones, contemplate whether you can adjust your habits, routine, and even mannerisms — remember how many of us just learned how often we touch our faces? — to maintain solid hygiene.
Jade Flinn, nurse educator at Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit, has seen people at the grocery store wearing all sorts of PPE who aren’t following the additional necessary procedures to prevent cross-contamination. “When we're wearing PPE, we want to make sure our behaviors change,” says Flinn. “Be mindful of what you're touching. If I'm touching a surface and want to scratch my nose, I need to think: Was that surface clean?”
Don’t think of gloves as a magic shield. Imagine them as a ribbon around your finger — a reminder to be conscientious about what you’re touching.
Don’t think of gloves as some sort of magic shield — they don’t kill germs on contact nor does wearing them automatically increase your level of protection. If you’re touching your smartphone or petting a dog or digging through your purse while wearing gloves, they cease to be a source of protection.
Instead, imagine gloves as a ribbon around your finger that reminds you to be conscientious about what you’re touching. If putting on a pair reminds you not to touch your phone, your face, or a very cute dog, then gloves become a helpful tool.
How Frequently Should You Change Your Gloves?
If you choose to wear gloves, you’ll need to change them frequently. Flinn uses this nifty rhyme to help her students remember: “Dirty to clean, change in between.”
Like “clean” and “dirty” zones in a kitchen, the world of hazardous materials neatly illustrates how to use PPE. Pete Raynor, a professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences in University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, explains: “In hazmat, the ‘hot zone’ is where you’re doing work with hazardous chemicals. The ‘warm zone’ is where people come back out, take off their PPE, decontaminate the equipment and themselves. Then they get in the ‘cold zone,’ where you can be normal.”
Nurse educator Jade Flinn uses this nifty rhyme to help her students remember: “Dirty to clean, change in between.”
Put another way: the grocery store (hot), parking lot (warm, this is where you’d take off PPE), and your car (cold). Other “cold” zones are your personal belongings, which you don’t want contaminated, as well as your house. These are things you can and should sanitize often.
“I’m not advocating for glove use,” warns Raynor, “But if people are going to do it, make sure to take them off before you get to your car.”
The beaking method — which involves pulling off one glove halfway and then pulling off the other into it so “clean” skin doesn’t come in contact with the “contaminated” outer glove area — is the best way to remove gloves safely. Don’t toss them on the ground where a worker has to pick them up after you. Bring a baggie with you to dispose of the gloves if you can’t find a trash can.
Gloves Protect Against Secondary Transmission, Not Primary
Gloves don’t do anything to protect against droplets in the air worming their way into your sinuses, which is the primary way COVID-19 spreads — rather, gloves may protect you from secondary transmission.
Confused about primary versus secondary transmission? Here’s what the latter term means: Secondary transmission is when you touch something contaminated (think soiled linens, dirty tissues) and transfer the virus to other things.
Fortunately, secondary transmission of germs and viruses is much less common than primary. “You’d need to have an object that’s contaminated, the virus remains infectious [on it], you touch the object, it’d have to remain infectious on your hands, you’d have to touch your face, and so on,” Raynor explains.
Think of it like handling raw chicken: You likely know that raw chicken carries salmonella, a nasty bacteria that rips through your intestines. You don’t want salmonella poisoning, so you take precautions: If your hands touched the raw chicken, you don’t swipe through Instagram or open a La Croix — you wash thoroughly with soap and water, then sanitize whatever surface may have come in contact with the meat. In the same way you would avoid spreading the potentially harmful chicken juice all over the place, you should not touch your phone, scratch your face, or put groceries away while wearing the same gloves you put on that morning.
“Gloves for the general public are not essential in almost all cases,” explains Raynor, adding that exceptions might include those who would already wear gloves at work or are “caring for someone who's sick [in which case] dealing with soiled clothing, bedding, wearing gloves might make sense.”
Why It’s Recommended We Cover Our Faces, But Not Necessarily Our Hands
As previously noted, cloth face coverings are recommended by the CDC, but even those come with some caveats. “You should still maintain physical distancing and not think you're safe just by wearing a mask,” says Raynor.
Why are cloth face coverings so important? “[A mask protects] people from the [person wearing it] by interrupting transmission,” Raynor explains, adding, “They may range from being moderately helpful to almost no help.” People making masks out of T-shirts, bandanas, and scarves, and who are buying kitschy polyester masks are all experiencing different levels of effectiveness.
Similar to cloth face coverings, Raynor says, the effectiveness of gloves corresponds to how diligent the user is about cleaning or disposing of them, as well whether they continue to practice social distancing guidelines.
How to Protect Yourself, With or Without Gloves
When used and removed correctly, gloves can be useful if you’re unable to wash your hands frequently or keep high-touch surfaces sanitized. But if you can’t or do not wish to wear gloves (and do not work in a job that requires you to do so), that’s okay. Simply washing your hands, disinfecting high-touch surfaces, and not touching your face offer nearly the same level of security. “With bare hands or with gloves you’re at almost the same risk,” says Raynor. “The skin is a great barrier to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. You’re protected by your skin.”
To protect your skin — so it can keep protecting you — wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizers. “When water and soap are not immediately available, hand sanitizers with upwards of 60 percent alcohol are good second alternatives,” Niket Sonpal, a New York-based internist, gastroenterologist, and adjunct professor at Touro College, previously told Allure.
“We want to urge the public: If you're going to wear PPE, wear it correctly.”
Whether or not you wear gloves, make it a priority to establish daily sanitizing routines. Raynor’s list of surfaces to consider include counters, door handles, faucets, and buttons on elevators, while Flinn notes the fridge door handle is an easy one to forget. (“Every hour we're opening our fridge and thinking, Am I hungry or am I just bored?” he says. “That’s a high-touch surface, baby!”)
“I’m seeing people wearing masks on their chin or as a headband. The whole point is to cover your nose and mouth. If you're wearing an N95, you need to be fit-tested to make sure you have a good seal,” says Flinn. “We want to urge the public: If you're going to wear PPE, wear it correctly.”
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Originally Appeared on Allure