The One Thing You Can Stop Doing to Avoid COVID, CDC Says

If you do this to run errands, the CDC says it's time to stop.

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At the start of the COVID pandemic, we were all panicking about how to protect ourselves to stay safe from the virus. But as time has gone on, we've learned that some safety measures are more effective than others. In fact, there’s one popular precaution that experts now say is not only unnecessary for containing COVID, but may actually spread the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the once-ubiquitous practice of wearing disposable gloves while running errands is not only ineffective, but also potentially dangerous.

According to the health authority, wearing gloves in everyday public settings “will not necessarily protect you from getting COVID-19 and may still lead to the spread of germs.” They posit that gloves are “not necessary in most situations,” citing the examples of pushing a shopping cart at the grocery store or using an ATM at the bank.

David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, agrees with the CDC's recommendation, and notes that the practice of wearing gloves in non-medical settings has always been "unsupported by science."

"While the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID can live on surfaces for many hours and maybe days, the likelihood of acquiring infection from those surfaces is very low," Cutler explains. "Most cases of COVID are transmitted by airborne droplets. Avoiding those droplets by wearing masks and distancing has proven to be very effective."

Experts also say that wearing gloves creates a false sense of security that can even increase your chances of accidentally contracting or transmitting COVID. "If you wear gloves in situations that do not have an obvious start and stopping point, you forget that your gloves are contaminated," Leann Poston, MD, medical expert for Ikon Health, previously told Best Life. "People put on gloves, go shopping, use their cell phones, touch their faces, enter their cars and homes, and then remove their gloves. Their hands were covered, but they cross-contaminated everything they touched. It is easier to forget about cross-contamination when wearing gloves. You are much more aware of what you touch when your hands are bare."

If you do choose to use disposable gloves for special circumstances, your handling of them is key. After use, be sure to remove them carefully and throw them away in a lined trash can. The CDC says you should never attempt to disinfect or reuse gloves, and you should wash your hands immediately and thoroughly after use.

Wondering when you should be wearing gloves for safety? Read on for the only exceptions to the rule, and for more on COVID precautions that aren't working, check out The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.

1
Wear gloves when you’re cleaning.

Woman cleaning fridge with gloves
Shutterstock/Andrey_Popov

While gloves are no longer considered necessary while running everyday errands, the CDC still recommends wearing gloves to clean your home. This will help protect you from harsh chemicals, which many of us are using more frequently to disinfect our homes during the pandemic.

These can be disposable latex gloves, or reusable PVC or rubber cleaning gloves, as long as you store them safely between uses. And for essential news on our current COVID surge, check out This Is How Bad the COVID Outbreak Is in Your State.

2
And when someone is sick in your home.

Female doctor doing at home visit to a patient.
iStock

You should always wear gloves when caring for someone who is sick in your home, according to the CDC. In particular, they advocate using “disposable gloves when touching or having contact with blood, stool, or body fluids, such as saliva, mucus, vomit, and urine.” Suffice to say, this is a policy that holds merit whether the diagnosis is COVID or anything else.

"If you are living in a house where someone has COVID, it may be reasonable to wear gloves when cleaning up after them and removing those contaminated gloves when leaving their isolation environment," Cutler explains. "But even more important is washing your hands after touching those gloves or any other contaminated surface." And for more regular COVID updates, sign up for our daily newsletter.

3
Wear gloves if your job necessitates them.

Medical team nurse feeling tired and sad from working to cure patients during covid 19 pandemic. Young woman take a break sitting close her eyes and rest after hard work at emergency case in hospital.
iStock

The CDC added this caveat to its recommendation to discontinue glove use: Your job may necessitate a different set of standards, and you should always defer to those guidelines. In particular, the agency gives the example of those who work in healthcare settings, where the regulations will be drastically different from the general population.

Cutler agrees, saying "It is only in the medical setting where gloves become more important for avoiding transmission of disease." And for one way you didn't know the virus can spread, check out The Strange New Way You Could Get COVID, Study Says.

4
And when you need to touch your own eyes, nose, or mouth.

Young man doing home eye exam in the bathroom
iStock

"COVID germs need to enter your body through your nose—or less likely, your mouth or eyes—to cause infection," explains Cutler. While this means you should avoid touching your face whenever possible during the COVID crisis, in some instances, you may have no choice.

When this happens, wearing a clean, disposable glove can help ensure that you don’t accidentally introduce the virus by contaminated touch. Be sure to dispose of the glove safely and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. And for more on how the virus is transmitted, check out You're More Likely to Get COVID From Someone Doing This Than From Coughing.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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