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BY AREFA CASSOOBHOY, MD, MPH Board-certified internist
MAY 11, 2020
Our experience with food has changed dramatically in a matter of a few weeks (along with everything else in life) because of COVID-19. We’re cooking at home more than ever before, and grocery shopping has become one of the few essential errands we leave the house for. Armed with our long shopping list and a face mask, we head out wondering if there’s anything else we can do to protect ourselves.
One question that keeps coming up is – Should you wear gloves at the grocery store?
The short answer is no. You do not need any kind of gloves at the grocery store.
Gloves will not protect you. If you touch a contaminated surface, the virus can transfer to your glove just like it could transfer to your fingers, so there’s no added protection from the gloves. If you touch your mouth or nose with the glove, you can pass the virus to yourself. And taking the gloves off after shopping is an especially vulnerable moment, as you can easily transfer any germs on the gloves to your hands and face if you’re not careful.
The reality is you’re much more likely to catch the coronavirus from the respiratory droplets of a person talking or sneezing near you rather than from an item you touch at the store – that’s why physical distancing is so important. To protect yourself at the grocery store, wear a cloth face mask and keep a minimum 6-foot distance from others. Plan your grocery trip so you can get in an out quickly during quiet times to minimize contact with others.
Gloves do not replace hand hygiene. Given that gloves don’t protect you from the virus, wearing gloves doesn’t save you time from hand washing. You still have to keep up with hand hygiene. That’s the most important way to remove the virus from your hands.
To protect yourself, you’ll want to use hand sanitizer as you enter and exit the grocery store and wipe down your shopping cart handle with a disinfectant. When you get home, wash your hands well with soap and water for 20 seconds. And clean any other items that might be dirty, like your phone and reusable grocery bags.
Gloves do not protect others. As you move about the grocery store, the gloves can get dirty from whatever you touch and transfer it along to others – just as your fingers would.
To protect others, touch as little as possible while you’re out. Don’t pick up produce and then put it back down.
Save the medical gloves. Medical gloves are meant for protection when you’re in high risk situations, like if you’re exposed to bodily fluids like blood, mucous, vomit and urine. The gloves protect patients, caregivers, and health care workers all day long from tasks at home like washing the laundry of a person sick with COVID-19, to tests and procedures at the hospital. For grocery shopping, the gloves don’t add benefit and aren’t necessary. Given medical gloves are in short supply, just as medical face masks are, please use gloves wisely.