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Wearing Gloves vs. Washing Your Hands: Are You Unintentionally Spreading Germs?


It’s been nearly three months since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., and some of us are still having trouble complying with the latest safety recommendations. States across the country are reopening at their own pace. States like Texas, the Carolinas, and Florida are on track to further open their respective economies despite a recent surge in cases, while others like New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are still in phase one of their plans to reopen.

Whether you’re going to the grocery store or visiting your local bar for the first time in months, you might be wondering whether you should wear gloves when going out in public. We asked our community of nurses what they have to say about the issue and the results are in.

Do Gloves Spread Germs?

On our Facebook page “Funny Nurses,” we asked more than a million nurses how they feel about wearing gloves in public. So, should we wear gloves, or is it better to just wash your hands?

The question was, “We see people wearing gloves everywhere. If gloves aren’t being switched out regularly, are we just spreading more infection?”

  • Just 3% said, “Yes, wear gloves.”
  • While a whopping 97% of users said gloves can  spread infection.

We know that the coronavirus can live on inanimate objects and surfaces for up to 72 hours. If some individuals choose to wear the same pair of gloves all day instead of washing their hands, we could have another major outbreak on our hands.

We heard a range of reactions from our nurses, including this comment from Laura Ann: “I spoke to my doctor about this, and she said as long as the gloves fit properly you can use hand sanitizer on them as you would your hands.”

Wearing gloves isn’t necessarily a recipe for disaster. You can also swap them out often to prevent the spread of germs.

Another comment from Donwick Howard caught our attention as well: “The funniest ones are the ones alone in the car with gloves and mask on. Who knows what they’ve touched wherever they have been, and they brought it right into their car.”

If you’re wearing gloves, take them off before touching something you use every day, like the steering wheel in your car, objects in and around your home, or even your face.

You should never reuse the same pair of gloves. As Vicky Lacey put it, “Would you wear a condom multiple times?” Keep extra pairs of disposable gloves nearby, so you’re not tempted to reuse the same pair over and over.

Recommendations from the CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s best to wear gloves when caring for a patient who has or may have been infected with the virus. This limits the amount of direct contact with infected individuals. If you know the person is infected, put on gloves!

You may also need to wear gloves at work, depending on your employer and the nature of your job. The CDC also says you might want to wear gloves when disinfecting your home to protect yourself from harsh chemicals. Wash your hands as soon as you take off the gloves.

The CDC also says that you shouldn’t wear gloves when running errands or going out in public. It’s better to wash your hands regularly, practice social distancing, and wear a face covering when going to the store.

A False Sense of Protection

At the end of the day, wearing gloves can help people feel safe during uncertain times. Even if the gloves aren’t preventing the spread of germs, they may give some people a sense of control over their surroundings. Germs are invisible, and, for some people, washing their hands may not feel like much of a safety net. Gloves give people a physical barrier from germs, which may help put their cares at ease, but this may end up being a false sense of comfort.

Others may be less diligent when it comes to washing their hands as the pandemic lingers on. Social distancing and proper hygiene may start to ease up in the months ahead as people start to forget about the virus.

Some individuals may be more reckless with their health and safety when wearing gloves. If they see gloves as a form of immunity from the virus, they could end up unintentionally infecting themselves and others.

The nurses have spoken. Clearly, gloves should only be used in certain situations. However, just because someone is wearing gloves doesn’t mean they are unintentionally spreading germs, so avoid calling people out or shaming them in public. Keep this information in mind as you talk to your patients about staying safe this summer.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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