COVID-19: Do Gloves and Masks Help?

Share This Post

We are all trying to protect ourselves from the novel Coronavirus. To improve your chances of remaining healthy, you need to practice an immune-boosting lifestyle by eating healthy, exercising regularly and managing stress. I’ve discussed these topics in recent blogs.

It is also very important is to limit exposure to COVID-19 by practicing social distancing and using different barriers to minimize contact with possible sources of the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended wearing face coverings in certain settings.

How much benefit do we get from wearing gloves? If you leave your residence to go for a walk or run essential errands, you will see many people wearing gloves (mostly rubber, latex or vinyl), as they go about their everyday tasks. Does it makes sense?

Using your ungloved hands – and then washing them often and thoroughly with soap – is the best way to prevent disease.

Healthy hand skin is oily, so it is hydrophobic (repels water/moisture). This barrier prevents most things from penetrating the skin and causing damage or disease. When you wash your hands, especially with soap, you get rid of damaging germs on your skin.

Wearing gloves might cause you to practice worse hand hygiene, because you keep wearing the now-dirty gloves instead of washing your hands. Gloves are only useful when you use them the right way and in a meaningful way.

In hospitals, for example, gloves are used for specific purposes to touch possible contaminated or dirty areas, to prevent contamination of a sick person, or not to soil a clean area. Those gloves also get disposed immediately afterwards, and then medical professionals clean their hands with soap. If you take the gloves off incorrectly, you can actually contaminate your hands with whatever was on the gloves.

If you do not remove the gloves immediately and touch your clothes, your phone, or any other surfaces, like a shopping bag, or the inside of your car, everything will be contaminated and you will potentially spread the virus.

If you touch any part of your face, scratching your nose, adjusting glasses, etc., while wearing these gloves, you will be delivering the virus to the entrance of a possible infection – mouth, nose, eyes.

If you really want to wear gloves, the most effective way to prevent germs from spreading would be to dispose of the gloves and apply hand sanitizer as soon as you step out of the store. If you are using public transportation, you can keep the gloves on (Do Not Touch Your Face! Do Not Answer Your Cellphone!) until you get into your home or car, but do not touch anything, including car keys, car handle and door knob until you toss the gloves and apply sanitizer. Also disinfect any surfaces you normally touch!

Better to focus on practicing good hand hygiene: Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds. Use alcohol based hand sanitizers while you are outside, but rub it in well and wait until it dries for best results. Do not forget to wash your hands as soon as you get home.

Now lets review the masks: There are three major categories of masks: non-medical, medical/surgical and N95.

When it comes to Coronavirus, masks can reduce pathogen circulation from/to the mouth and nose. They can also serve to remind you not to touch your face, thus preventing you from transmitting pathogens from your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Non-medical masks that are made at home (typically cloth masks) can be somewhat beneficial, depending on the material used, the number of layers, the fit, and how they are cleaned. The main benefit is to limit exposure to the face. A randomized trial found that healthcare workers wearing cloth masks were 13 times more likely to contract flu-like illnesses than those wearing medical masks. Moisture retention, re-use of cloth masks and poor filtration may result in increased risk of infection. Again, homemade masks have stronger evidence of protecting others from you than for protecting you from others.

Medical/surgical masks offer only minimal to moderate protection for the wearer, but good protection for others if the wearer is sick, but overall they are associated with a reduced risk of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Most of the evidence for medical masks on slowing cold and flu transmission is seen when they are worn by sick people, but not as much on them protecting healthy people who wear them.

Unfortunately, both medical and cotton masks seem to be ineffective in preventing the dissemination of COVID-19 from the coughs/sneezes of patients with this disease to the environment and external mask surface.

N95 is the most common variety of respirator; it provides a one-two punch of filtering out small particles and sealing the face with a tight fit, which provides the best protection. Unfortunately, in the current environment of limited supply of PPE (personal protective equipment), N95 masks should only be used by healthcare workers, who need to protect themselves from different pathogens and air borne exposures.

In conclusion: should you wear a mask? Yes, masks are useful at a population-wide level, during pandemics like this. Universal community masking shows some evidence, suggesting a benefit for reducing transmission and acquisition of the novel Coronavirus.

When first infected, most people don’t show any symptoms for several days, and up to a quarter of people do not have any symptoms. During this time they could infect you; you could unknowingly infect your friends and family. Therefore minimize interactions and maintain physical distance. Physical contacts with the elderly and immuno-compromised individuals should be extremely limited!

For more information on a healthy lifestyle, please schedule a Functional Medicine evaluation with Dr. Val Koganski by calling 215-750-7000 or online at www.NewtownInternalMedicine.com