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Deborah German, MD Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean, UCF College of Medicine

Should you be wearing gloves in public and at work to protect yourself against COVID-19? For answers, we turn this week to Erica Hoyt, a College of Nursing faculty member who teaches the fundamentals of nursing, including gloving. As part of this tip, she had her Community Nursing students research the effectiveness of gloves in fighting infection – and said it helped them get valuable experience analyzing peer-reviewed scientific research.

Wearing gloves sounds like a good idea to protect yourself from COVID-19, but in fact, gloves provide a false sense of security and may actually increase the virus’ spread.

Say you wear gloves to the grocery store. You think you’re safe so you touch food, jars, cans, bottles, counters, the shopping cart and the credit card machine. Your gloves now contain all of the germs that were on those surfaces – including perhaps COVID-19. But you falsely think you’re protected because you’re wearing gloves. As you shop, your cell phone rings, so you dig into your purse or pocket and grab your phone. Now those germs on your gloves have spread to your phone. And as you talk, those germs are near your face, where they can easily enter your nose, mouth and eyes, infecting your respiratory system. You didn’t give touching things at the grocery store a second thought because you believed you were protected with gloved hands. But you’ve actually spread germs to your phone, purse, clothing and everywhere you put that phone after your grocery store visit.

Erica Hoyt,
College of Nursing,
Fundamentals of Nursing

When it comes to germs, it’s helpful to imagine the world covered with glitter. Every ATM machine, every counter, every surface you touch is covered with sparkles. You’re touching all that glitter whether you’re wearing gloves or not. How fast will the glitter spread to every corner of your life and environment? Any of us who have done craft projects with glitter can answer that.

Gloves are appropriate protection in a healthcare environment. Healthcare providers get extensive training on how to put on and take off gloves safely so they don’t infect themselves or others. Before they put on gloves, providers wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. Why? Because your skin, when covered by gloves, becomes an environment that germs love — a warm, damp surface. Under gloves, any germs on your hand are multiplying. Washing your hands before gloving reduces that risk. Providers are also taught how to properly remove their gloves – grabbing the palm with a gloved hand and turning the glove inside out so germs stay on the inside. After removing their gloves, a healthcare provider disposes of them immediately and then immediately washes or sanitizes their hands again. Very few people wearing gloves for protection against COVID-19 are following these strict protocols, so they are at risk of spreading germs.  

Those of us who aren’t healthcare professionals probably use gloves for gardening and dishwashing. We don’t sanitize our hands before and after we wash the dishes or do yard work. We use gloves to keep our hands free of dirt and to protect our skin from detergents that dry the skin. And we wear our gloves until they fall apart. Gloves used to protect people from infection in a healthcare environment come with a very different and stricter set of protocols.

So please, don’t be fooled into thinking gloves give you protection during the pandemic. Unless you work in a healthcare setting, wearing gloves may just spread germs — like glitter.

COVID-19 health tips are brought to you by UCF’s Academic Health Sciences Center (AHSC), which includes the Colleges of Health Professions and Sciences (CHPS), Medicine, Nursing and Student Health Services. 

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