How wearing gloves during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to cross contamination


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — You might think you’re helping to protect yourself in the COVID-19 outbreak by wearing gloves to the grocery store or when pumping gas, but you could be doing more harm than good.

Jackie Lee, the program director for surgical technology at Savannah Technical College, told NOW that wearing gloves incorrectly only leads to cross contamination.

“Once you enter the store and touch your grocery cart, those gloves are already contaminated,” Lee said.

“Every item that you touch, all you’re doing is transferring the germs from item to item, because you have on the same gloves,” she said. 

Contrary to what many might think, Lee said it’s actually better to not wear gloves while outside of your home.

“You can’t always wash your hands while you’re out in public, but it would be best practice to have some hand sanitizer in your car, and as soon as you leave the grocery store, use your hand sanitizer,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t even understand that concept, so they think they’re protecting themselves and others, whereas they’re not,” she added.

Cross contamination from store clerks

Lee also noted the potential dangers of store cashiers wearing gloves while checking out multiple customers.

In the surgical tech field, Lee says only one pair of sterile gloves is used for each patient. 

“So, when we see this now in public — and it’s not just me, it’s driving a lot of people crazy — that they’re using one pair of gloves for every customer, it’s the same concept whether it’s in healthcare or in the public setting,” she said. 

Lee had a recent encounter with a store clerk that concerned her.

While awaiting checkout with a few customers ahead of her, she noticed the man ringing up items without changing his gloves between transactions. 

Even more worrying — Lee says the clerk was coughing and sneezing while using his gloves to wipe his nose. 

“When I got up there and it was my turn, I asked him, ‘would you please change your gloves?,’ and he said ‘no, this is the only pair I have, and I brought it from home, it’s for my protection,’” Lee said.

He was the only cashier available, Lee recalled, so she asked for the manager.

I just explained to her how it wasn’t a good practice, and she actually asked him to remove his gloves,” Lee said. 

Lee said she understands that while it might not be realistic for cashiers to sanitize their hands between each customer they assist, she recommends they do this at least between every few customers. 

“It’s definitely better than wearing the gloves,” Lee said. 

Wearing, removing gloves properly

If a person does choose to wear gloves, the key is remembering that the gloves need to be changed between each activity to avoid cross contamination. 

“Say you went to pump gas and you put your gloves on,” Lee said. “That’s perfectly okay, but after you pump your gas, immediately take your gloves off and dispose of them, because if you don’t, if you turn around to touch your doorknob, it is now contaminated with all the same germs.”

She says while it’s different for sanitation workers, for example, who need gloves to do their job, it’s not necessary to wear them for everyday errands. 

“It’s a waste of time,” Lee said. 

She added that those wearing gloves should be sure to remove them safely to prevent spreading germs to their bare hands.

“The proper way to remove the gloves once you have used them would be to not let the gloves touch the inside, where your hands are,” Lee described.

It’s best to grab the outside of one glove and let it slide off your hand as it flips inside out. 

“[Then], with your other hand, put your finger under the other glove and remove it without touching the outside of the glove,” Lee said.

After that, simply toss them in the trash.

“A lot of people are throwing them on the ground,” she said.

Her advice to other members of the public is to not “believe the hype.”

“Gloves are not ideal in many situations, and if you see cashiers wearing gloves, please ask them to remove or change them,” Lee said.

“Continue to wash your hands. Use hand sanitizers. Throw the gloves away, and leave them for the healthcare workers,” she added.

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