Coronavirus FAQ: Do gloves help protect against COVID-19?

Patty Kowlin and her staff at Sunnyside Natural Market in Calgary have been doing everything possible to keep the business afloat while practicing the best safety measures to protect against COVID-19.

Only five customers are allowed inside at a time, plexiglass barriers have been installed at the tills and staff are constantly wiping down surfaces with disinfectant.

A loyal customer has even supplied the whole team with homemade face masks, which health officials now say could be a useful additional measure in slowing the spread of the virus.

But one measure being adopted at many grocery stores and drive-thru restaurants has caused some confusion at Sunnyside.

“We haven’t been able to find any concrete evidence on wear gloves or don’t wear gloves,” Kowlin said. “It seems to be changing constantly.”

Kowlin started by making gloves mandatory for her staff but eased on that directive when an employee, who happened to be a student nurse, informed her that wearing gloves may not actually be helpful during a viral pandemic.

“At this point, it’s up to our staff if they want to wear gloves,” Kowlin said. “When you see people in the store wearing gloves it’s most likely because we’re bleaching everything and it’s to protect our hands because our hands are getting so dried out and irritated.”

Guidelines for gloves from Alberta Health Services

In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health Services (AHS) called medical gloves “a very important component of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.”

“However, gloves do not need to be worn by members of the general public during their daily activities, such as when grocery shopping,” the statement read.

“If not used and disposed of properly, wearing gloves may provide another surface for the virus to live on – potentially encouraging virus transmission.”

When asked about the current guidance on wearing gloves at Monday’s press briefing, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said gloves can be worn but are by no means a replacement for hand-washing.

“I wouldn’t recommend necessarily for or against glove use,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “I would just say if people do choose to use them, they need to be thinking very carefully — in the same way they would if they didn’t have gloves on — about what they’re touching, making sure to stay away from their face, and making sure to wash hands thoroughly before putting them on and after taking them off.”

Missaghi said the gloves themselves also aren’t designed to withstand the wear and tear of daily activities like shopping or pumping gas and can easily be ripped or have micro-tears, rendering them ineffective.

He added that latex gloves are practically useless in protecting against COVID-19 if they aren’t removed and disposed of properly.

“If the gloves aren’t removed according to proper technique, you may actually contaminate yourself with anything on the outer surface of the gloves,” he said.

“If someone were to choose to wear them, I would tell them to pull up a fact sheet and essentially learn how to remove the latex gloves properly.”

If that weren’t enough, some early research suggests COVID-19 may cling to latex gloves better than bare skin.

“There are studies being done at the University of Arizona as well as other places basically outlining the adhesive properties of viruses,” Missaghi said.

“This is just preliminary, but there was some evidence which noted it’s possible coronavirus could adhere to latex gloves better than it can adhere to your own skin. So that may make one especially weary of wearing these things because people still touch their face while wearing the gloves.”

Missaghi said the gloves are still useful for certain people outside a medical environment. For those in a line of work where hands get grossly soiled or dirty, wearing gloves combined with proper hand-washing is appropriate.

However, for those shopping for groceries, stocking the shelves, or handing over a coffee through the drive-thru window, Missaghi believes gloves should not replace the tried and true methods of hand-washing, proper cough etiquette, and physical distancing.

“I think human nature is that we want to put as many physical barriers between ourselves and the virus. That includes things like gloves and masks. But at the end of the day, the single best intervention is excellent hand hygiene,” he said.

“Wearing more stuff on our skin doesn’t necessarily make us more safe.”

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