The protective equipment you should really be focusing on, the experts say, is masks. “These are actually quite critical, and more so than gloves,” He says. “A widespread mask policy will become increasingly important as we try to transition from social distancing to a more normal semblance of society. It will be critical to wear masks when we go out to ensure we are not infecting others if we’re not even aware we’re infected. Wearing masks ensures that we keep essential workers to minimal exposure to ourselves when we go out. Gloves do not really have that same effect.”
If you do buy reusable gloves, are you taking them away from health care workers?
“Demand is unprecedented at this time, as every country is having issues with COVID and thus need PPE all at the same time,” says He. “It’s the classic ‘toilet paper problem,”meaning that when everyone scrambles to buy something at the same time, it runs out. The supply chain—i.e., the system of companies that use materials to make things like gloves and masks—breaks down.
This problem is putting essential workers in danger. “I have heard from nurses all over the country that they have been reduced to one surgical mask per shift, or even worse, per week,” Norton says. “New York City nurses are literally wearing garbage bags because they are out of protective gowns. Nurses in Michigan are out of Tylenol. This is not a joke—this is happening, and the United States needs to do better.” Grocery store workers, delivery people, and others who are on the front lines are also at greater physical risk if they don’t have access to appropriate PPE.
So is there a moral obligation to avoid buying gloves, or to donate any extra gloves that you own? “It depends,” says He. “Nitrile gloves are very useful for health care workers, but also grocery store workers, nursing home members, people who work closely with high-risk populations like homeless shelters or jails and prisons. We can’t forget these places, or COVID will spread. So I do usually advocate for these places to get the disposable gloves.”
If you do buy reusable gloves, the key, He says, is for people to “buy and use what they need.” The worst thing you could do is to hoard PPE.
Okay, but what if I will just feel better if I wear gloves?
If you do choose to wear gloves, there are best practices, according to the CDC guidelines for health care workers (you can also apply these tips to the reusable gloves that He recommends):
Gloves should be the very last thing you put on.
Gloves should fit snug around the wrist.
Take them off if they are torn.
Never wash or reuse disposable gloves.
The CDC’s guidelines for healthcare workers, for properly removing gloves
Generally, you need to treat your gloved hands as you would your ungloved hands—know that every time you touch something with gloved hands, like your cell phone or your car door, you may be using contaminated hands. And of course, you need to wash your hands after using gloves.
I’ve been seeing gloves everywhere…on the ground.
If you do decide to wear gloves, and you take them off before touching another thing to avoid spreading germs, that’s great! If you take them off and throw them directly on the ground in a public space, that’s litter!
Highly populated areas are reporting a huge uptick in street trash in the form of disposable gloves that are being thrown on the ground. If you do that, you’re not helping keep yourself safe—you’re just littering, and potentially endangering sanitation workers.
If essential workers can risk their lives to keep us safe and healthy, we can do the brave, selfless, heroic thing…and throw our trash in the trash can.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.