Why gloves can be dangerous for the public to prevent COVID-19

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Andrew L. Rosen, MD
Although it's not a typical orthopaedic topic, I thought it would be useful to discuss a more important public health issue, the use of latex-type gloves to protect members of the general public during the current COVID-19 epidemic.

Yesterday I went to the pharmacy and observed a woman who seemed very careful and was trying to avoid becoming infected. She was wearing a surgical mask and stayed at least 6 feet away from all people in the store (all very good techniques). She was also wearing latex gloves for her entire shopping trip. I watched her pick up items, put them into a non-disposable (socially-responsible) shopping bag and then take them to the self-checkout. There she used the touch screen with her gloves, opened up her purse and wallet and put her credit card in the slot and paid for her pharmacy items. I then saw her put her card back in her wallet, her wallet in her purse and then carry everything to her car, entering it and driving home, all still while wearing her gloves!

There is no danger of COVID entering your hands

There has been no documented report of a known transmission of COVID through intact skin. The COVID virus needs to get to a person's mouth or eyes to infect them. Having COVID on the skin of your hands will not lead to an infection if your hands are cleaned before touching anything else.

We need to assume that every object of any kind could be contaminated

For the last few weeks, I've been explaining the principles to my non-medical friends to make them understand the principles of reverse-sterile technique. When we leave our clean, protected houses (hopefully), we need to assume that every solid object of any kind could be contaminated by an unknowing COVID-carrying person that touched, coughed or maybe even just breathed on the object. That includes door handles, self-checkout machines, credit card readers, items on a pharmacy shelf, cans of food at a supermarket. COVID can live on objects for over 3 days for most common substances.

Gloves can carry COVID just as easily (or possible more) than bare hands

As soon as you have touched the door handle that has been exposed to a COVID patient, the gloves you wear are now contaminated with COVID! Touching objects such as wallets, credit cards, car keys will easily transfer the virus to those as well. Holding the same objects with bare hands later will allow the eventual transfer to your face and can lead to infection. The risks are low but still possible.

Use hand sanitizer instead of gloves

My personal recommendation to friends is to skip the latex gloves and instead, watch carefully what you touch and ‘pretend’ that your hands are contaminated after holding or touching any objects. Hold your hands in front of you and avoid touching your face, clothing, phones, wallets or car doors. Sanitize your hands fully with an alcohol-based product the second you have left a store, used a door or touched any objects outside the home. Try not to carry a wallet, but if you do, sanitize any area that you touched immediately afterwards. When you get home, wipe items purchased with cleaning wipes or approved cleaning products on rags and wash your hands carefully!

If you do choose to use gloves, be very careful with removing them

The act of removing gloves that have COVID can actually contaminate your hands or send COVID viruses into the air! The proper way to remove gloves is to grab the glove near the wrist (avoid touching the wrist with your other gloved hand) and carefully, slowly, peel it inside-out down the hand. Hold the inside-out glove and throw it in the trash immediately! Sanitize with a Purell-type product as soon as the gloves are off to be double safe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

Avoiding direct exposure to a person with COVID is still the most important way to prevent infection

'Hand hygiene' is very important but the most effective way to avoid COVID-19 infection is to stay at least 6 feet away from other people and wear a cloth surgical-style mask whenever you get into enclosed areas where people have been (elevators, small rooms, hallways).

Stay safe out there! I can't wait to get back to sports medicine topics soon.