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Here's how to safely wear, remove, and dispose of gloves in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

By Caroline Biggs
April 22, 2020
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Wearing gloves whenever you leave your home is crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, if you aren't properly wearing, removing, and disposing of them, your efforts might be futile. "Cross contamination is the transfer of bacteria or another contaminant from one surface to another in definition," explains Amanda Rempe, RN BSN at Wesley Medical Center. "While wearing gloves, anything you touch will be transferred from the surface of your gloves to any other surface you touch. For example, if you are wearing gloves and touch a shopping cart, a doorknob, or even a sink faucet and then touch your face or your phone, you will transfer any organism that may have been present to that other surface."

woman disinfects milk container while wearing protective gloves
Credit: PixelCatchers / Getty Images

This means that even when you're wearing gloves, you could still be spreading the coronavirus around. "Imagine you are wearing gloves, you have a cup full of honey and you pour that honey into your gloved hand," says Detroit-based Adam Milstein, RN BSN. "You then pick up your coffee cup with your honey covered hand, [which means] that coffee cup is covered with honey. Now, you take your honey-soaked hand and grab your phone and scroll through your social media for a minute, and then scratch your nose. In a matter of a minute or two, your coffee cup, your phone, and your nose are all covered in honey. Now, imagine the honey is the COVID-19 virus—you've just tripled your chances of getting infected."

Luckily, both nurses say there are simple steps you can take to avoid cross-contamination while wearing gloves. Here's what they had to share.

Be wary of everything you touch.

In order to stop the spread of viruses, Milstein says you have to be cautious when touching surfaces and handling items. "Look with your eyes not with your hands," he says. "Be deliberate with items that you do touch, and wash your hands excessively (20 seconds in warm water, and routinely throughout your day). As nurses, we change gloves whenever we touch something dirty, we wash our hands or use hand sanitizer before putting gloves on and after removing them, and never wear the same gloves from room to room or patient to patient."

Don't wear them more than once.

Since the main purpose of wearing gloves is to avoid direct contact with potentially contaminated objects, Rempe says washing and disinfecting them after use in order to reuse them isn't effective. "Medical and nitrile gloves that are used in healthcare facilities are designed to be single-use, so using hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes on gloves isn't advised," she says.

According to our experts, how you remove your gloves is every bit as important as how you wear them. "Gloves should be inverted for removal by turning them into one another, but you can very easily contaminate your bare hands by doing this, so immediately washing your hands once you have removed your gloves is always the best practice," Rempe says. Milstein adds: "Grab one glove with the other gloved hand and remove (glove to glove), then with your un-gloved finger remove the second glove by sliding your finger under the glove and remove."

Ensure they're properly disposed of.

If you aren't throwing away your gloves safely, you aren't safeguarding yourself or loved ones from the coronavirus. "Gloves should be disposed of in a closed lid trash can where you can be sure small children or pets won't have access to them once discarded," Rempe says. "You may even throw them away in an outdoor trash bin to be extra cautious. If you are using gloves out in public, bring along a disposable bag to place the gloves in once you are done with them so you do not contaminate any other surfaces in your vehicle or your home."

Wash your hands.

While wearing gloves correctly can help prevent the spread of viruses, Rempe says nothing is more effective than actively washing your hands. "You wouldn't clean your toilet and then move on to wiping down a countertop without washing your hands first, and you also wouldn't touch raw chicken and then go on to preparing other foods without washing your hands," she says. "Wash your hands often, especially when you've been in a more public place like a grocery store. Keeping hand sanitizer in your car for use once you've been out in public is also helpful, but nothing is safer and more effective than washing your hands."

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