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This has been reviewed and updated as of May 7, 2020.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, we all want to do the right things to protect ourselves and our loved ones from COVID-19. We wash our hands thoroughly, try not to touch our face, and disinfect the high-trafficked areas of our homes. We only go out food shopping when absolutely necessary, wear a cloth face mask, and try to keep at least six feet away from other people while doing so.
So how else to keep safe? Well, since hand sanitizer is still pretty scarce these days, you might be wearing gloves — disposable surgical gloves if you have them, or dishwashing or cloth gloves if you don’t. And if you’re like most people, you probably go about your regular shopping routine, including checking the list on your phone, touching the produce, and pushing the cart, assuming that the pair of gloves is acting like a barrier between you and coronavirus germs.
How Wearing Gloves Can Be Problematic for Coronavirus Protection
The trouble is that pair of gloves isn’t necessarily keeping you safe from coronavirus — and may even be making things worse.
“The mantra to think of is, ‘a dirty glove is worse than a dirty hand,’” says Lucille Plantemoli, RN, MPH, vice president of wellness for HealthLink Advocates, a patient advocacy group.
Going out without gloves — on the, um, other hand — forces you to be mindful, to be more careful about not touching your face and making a beeline to the bathroom as soon as you get home to wash your hands, she advises.
“Perhaps because gloves create a false sense of security, people aren’t using them properly and so they may actually make the contamination worse for others as well as the person wearing them,” says registered nurse Audrey Christie, MSN, RN, based in Lake Dallas, Texas, who works with women with autoimmune and chronic health conditions.
“I like to use glitter as an analogy. Think of COVID-19 — or any other virus — as glitter on your shopping cart. You touch the shopping cart with your gloved hands and now the glitter is on your gloves. You go through the store, touching products, getting glitter on all of the products. You adjust your clothes and purse, check your phone, and maybe scratch your head as you wonder if you need frozen corn. Now the glitter is on your person and your items. You pay and put your groceries in the car, remove the gloves, and throw your purse in the seat next to you,” says Christie. “Your hands under the gloves are still fine, but now the glitter is still there and on all of the groceries, wallet, phone, and debit card.”
COVID-19 Protection Strategies That Are Better Than Gloves
Delivery and pickup services that drop things off at your doorstep or load the groceries directly into the trunk of your car are your best option, says Christie. If grocery delivery services are hard to access, tap into your friends-and-family network for help getting essential items, at least occasionally.
Do not be afraid to ask others for help. Now is the time.
Go during special hours
Many grocery and big box stores have instituted “high-risk” shopping hours for those over age 60 and people with health chronic health conditions. Take advantage of them if you can’t get your groceries delivered. At the very least, there may be slightly fewer crowds at the store and the shelves may be less empty.
Ask your grocery store to change their policies
If your go-to grocery store has not yet instituted good social distancing practices (letting a few customers in the store at any one time, lining up people six feet apart) or isn’t offering hand sanitizer or cart-wiping stations at the entrances, bring it up with the manager or even your local board of health, advises Plantemoli, who also holds a certificate in infectious disease prevention. “You have to be an advocate for not only yourself but your fellow man,” she adds.
Carry hand sanitizer around always
It’s true that hand sanitizer is hard to find right now, but when you do score a bottle, put it in your purse or pocket and use it only when you’re outside your home.
“I put it in my pocket when I go to the grocery stores because I’m cleaning my hands several times,” says Plantemoli.
She also keeps disinfecting wipes in her car and swabs down the steering wheel and other high-touch areas in the car. You could use them to swab down your phone too if you had it out the whole time you were shopping.
Follow other best practices
Like other viruses, coronavirus enters the body through your mouth, nose, and eyes. Wear a cloth face mask while you’re in public places. Avoid touching your face while you run essential errands. If you don’t have hand sanitizer or wipes in your car, you can use a disinfecting spray to clean the doorknob, counters, and other areas you touched when you came in the house.
Spread the word
If you’ve got a friend or family member who’s doing the shopping for you, let them know that gloves won’t safeguard them, either.
The Right Way to Wear Gloves (If You Wear Them At All)
The only time you are supposed to wear gloves is when you’re handling fluids from a family member or partner with COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You should wear disposable gloves. Once you’re done, you should toss them in the trash and wash your hands immediately after.
If you still want to wear gloves outside anyway, carry multiple disposable gloves and carefully pull them on and off, says Christie. “In nursing school, we used to do an exercise where we would paint the outside of the gloves, and in order to prove that you could put gloves on and off effectively—you had to do so without getting the paint on your skin. It takes practice.”
But even more importantly, don’t touch anything with your gloved hands — not your phone, face, purse, clothes, or debit card, adds Christie. “The bottom line is that gloves are ineffective unless they’re used very carefully.”
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Interview with Audrey Christie, MSN, RN, a registered nurse based in Lake Dallas, Texas
Interview with Lucille Plantemoli, RN, MPH, Vice President of Wellness for HealthLink Advocates
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing the Spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 In Homes and Residential Communities. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-prevent-spread.html