For Birmingham Women–Should You Be Wearing Gloves to the Grocery Store?

Latex gloved hand holding grocery bagYou’ve been bombarded 24/7 with advice about how to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 illness. Some of it comes from medical sources, but much of it comes from individuals with no medical background nor even good research to back up their claims.

For our patients, we want to recommend one of the most important ingredients of wellness—common sense. In most cases, you can rely on your own good judgment to decide how much protection is necessary.

How Masks Reduce COVID-19 Risk

The question of what protection you would want to wear when you leave your home is a great example. Most of us now wear face covering. When you think about it, you realize face covering is a pretty good idea. Your mask catches droplets if you cough or sneeze. It doesn’t fit your face tight enough to keep you from inhaling droplets from someone else like the N95 mask healthcare providers use (although your face covering might reduce the quantity of your exposure). It is the masks worn by others that actually protect you. Your mask also keeps you from touching your face which is excellent. Think of the outside of your mask as “dirty.” You’ve been pulling the environment toward it with each breath. Remove your mask or scarf from the ears, instead of the front, and then wash your hands.

What About Gloves?

But you’re seeing lots of people wearing gloves now, and you’re worried that you should get some latex gloves—which are hard to find unless you have a medical supply account. But the function of gloves is different from masks. If you think about it a little bit, you will realize that gloves aren’t really going to protect you. Touch a surface wet with droplets from a sick person, and then bring your bare hand to your face. You now have virus exposure. Do the same thing with a glove on, and the result is the same. Latex gloves do keep the droplets off your skin while you are wearing them. But, unless you remove them the way we do in the hospital, virus on the glove ends up on your hands anyway.  When we take off the gloves, even very carefully, we perform good hand hygiene.

You don’t catch coronavirus through the skin on your hands. You catch it when virus on your skin reaches your nose, mouth, or eyes. With or without gloves, if you touch those facial areas, you may bring the virus into your body. Maybe gloves remind you not to touch your face, or maybe they just make you feel protected when no protection exists. The common-sense conclusion here is that gloves probably are not worth the trouble. WASH YOUR HANDS!

So why are most of our staff (and most other healthcare personnel) wearing gloves? Our staff who provide direct patient care (who touch patients), throw the gloves away after each patient. This is the only way gloves can protect. Our nursing staff are trained in how to properly remove the gloves and perform hand hygiene each time. You will see others in our office wearing gloves, for example, the front desk and check-out staff. They understand that their gloves are not really different from bare hands. For them, the gloves are just a reminder to limit direct patient contact. For example, we no longer use the sign-in sheets and pens. We ask you to download patient forms and complete them before your arrival if possible, etc.

We want you to help you to stay healthy without causing unnecessary anxiety. If gloves (or any protective measure) lessen your anxiety, use them with a good, common-sense understanding of their limitations.