While they aren’t currently a necessity, I know a lot of people are choosing to wear disposable gloves when they go out, for example, when grocery shopping. If you do end up using gloves, it’s important to wear them correctly. Otherwise they may be doing more harm them good.
What gloves actually do
You don’t get sick from getting the coronavirus on your skin; you get sick from getting the virus in your face holes. That’s why we wash our hands: If the virus gets on your hands, you wash it off before you touch your face.
So the point of wearing gloves isn’t to keep the virus off your skin. It’s to keep the virus on the outside of your gloves, so that you can take the gloves off and have clean(ish) hands again. “Failing to change gloves when needed is no different from failing to wash your hands,” microbiologist Simon Clarke writes at The Conversation.
That said, best practice is to wash your hands before and after wearing gloves, just to be sure you haven’t contaminated your gloves or vice versa.
You still need to pay attention to what you touch
If you touch a doorknob and then touch your face, you may have just put virus on your face—whether you’re wearing gloves or not.
One hazard of wearing gloves is that people tend to think they’re protected, and then they carelessly touch clean and dirty things with the same pair of gloves. Have you ever seen somebody at a sandwich shop take your money with gloves on, and then go make the next person’s sandwich with those same gloves? That’s exactly what you don’t want to do.
So if you’re shopping with gloves on, you’d want to remove the gloves before touching your phone or wallet. Or if you touch those things with your gloves on, make sure to clean them afterward.
Know how to remove gloves safely
If the outside surface of a glove is contaminated, you don’t want to touch your other, clean hand with that glove as you remove it. So technique is important here.
There are a lot of videos out there demonstrating proper technique, but I like this one because it uses sticky barbecue sauce to drive the point home. Act like everything is covered in barbecue sauce when you’re trying to keep clean and dirty surfaces away from each other. Would you touch your face with that barbecue sauce hand? Would you touch your phone with it? I didn’t think so.
Know the downsides of wearing gloves
Everything has its pros and cons, glove-wearing included. A major one here is that gloves are part of the PPE (personal protective equipment) that healthcare workers need to do their jobs safely. Just like we leave medical-grade masks to the professionals, it’s smart to leave gloves to them as well.
You should also be aware that if you see other people wearing gloves, they may not know the do’s and don’ts as well as you. You don’t know what they’ve been touching with those gloves on.
Gloves also break down over time, so if you’re using the same pair over and over, they may break. (You also have to worry about contamination between uses, since as you saw in the video above, the gloves end up inside-out when you’re done taking them off.) If you want to try washing or sanitizing your gloves while you’re wearing them, check for information from the gloves’ manufacturer. Some glove materials will break down when they contact certain chemicals.
If you’re wearing gloves and a mask, remove the gloves and wash your hands before removing the mask. Otherwise, you’re touching your face and hair with contaminated hands.
And finally, if you’re wearing gloves, dispose of them safely. In the garbage can, please.