Handwashing higher than gloves to guard in opposition to COVID-19: Guelph knowledgeable

GUELPH — Wearing gloves to protect against COVID-19 can actually heighten the risk of getting sick, a Guelph expert warns.

“This is a misguided effort,” said Professor Keith Warriner, a food microbiologist in the University of Guelph’s food science department. “It definitely doesn’t help. It actually hinders.”

Warriner, who researches food-borne pathogens as well as detection and intervention technologies for food-borne hazards, said wearing gloves makes people less conscious of the need to handle items less, which can potentially spread the virus more.

“It gives them a false sense of security,” he said. “You feel you have this barrier against the virus so you’re more likely to touch things.”

Even while wearing gloves, it’s possible to touch a contaminated surface and then your mouth, nose or eyes to possibly become infected. People also tend to use gloves as a substitute for washing their hands regularly.

“It actually causes more issues because it discourages handwashing,” he said. “Handwashing is definitely the most effective thing we have.”

Warriner said people see health professionals wearing gloves and think it must be good. But in medical settings gloves are worn to prevent spreading infection between patients, and health professionals are trained how to put on and remove gloves without spreading contamination.

“We don’t know how to use gloves. You need to be trained to do it,” said Warriner, adding that he’s heard of people using their teeth to take off gloves or wearing them while eating and drinking.

Food service workers wear gloves, but then it’s to prevent contaminating food with pathogens such as norovirus, hepatitis and salmonella that follow the fecal-oral route.

“We like to see people wearing gloves in this situation,” Warriner said.

While he said the coronavirus can linger on surfaces for a while, it’s primarily spread through droplets that travel through the air when a person coughs or sneezes — and gloves can’t protect against those airborne particles.

And the danger is not just from coronavirus while out in public spaces such as grocery stores.

Gloves can cause cross-contamination if a person is thinking less about what they’re touching and, for instance, handles a package of meat and then fresh produce.

“We’ve got to worry about other pathogens as well, not just the virus,” Warriner said.

That’s why Warriner stresses the four pillars of protection to reduce the risk of acquiring COVID-19: mask, handwashing, eye protection and social distancing. Using all four is best.

He understands people’s inclination to wear gloves and try other ways to avoid the virus.

“We’re trying to protect ourselves in various ways. Some of those ways are effective,” Warriner said.

Regular handwashing is the best defence, and he said people should focus on that habit to stay healthy. The Public Health Agency of Canada concurred earlier this week, saying regular hand washing or sanitizing bare hands is a better way to ward off COVID-19 than wearing gloves.

“Handwashing is much more effective,” Warriner said.

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