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Are Masks and Gloves Effective at Reducing Viral Transmission?

Posted by David Cheatham, April 14, 2020

Most of us live under “shelter in place” orders right now, which basically means that we shouldn’t leave home except for essentials. We hope you’re doing well at home, staying busy, and beating the boredom. But once in a while, you might need to go out, in order to purchase food or pick up a prescription.

The CDC now recommends that we all wear masks or some sort of face coverings when venturing out on these essential trips. Along with that, many people are opting to wear sterile gloves as well. But how effective are these personal protections, and how can you put them to best use?

The New York Times recently delved into old data from the SARS outbreak, to see what we learned from the use of these items during that time:

  • Use of masks decreased transmission by 68 percent
  • Gloves decreased transmission by 55 percent
  • Washing hands regularly also decreased transmission by 55 percent

As you can see, none of these methods were foolproof, but they did help. But the most interesting statistic was that using all three of these methods decreased transmission rates by 91 percent. So if you’re going to use any of the above measures anyway, go ahead and add the other two.

And of course, any protective equipment is only effective when used correctly. Keep in mind that homemade cloth face coverings are less effective than surgical masks, because the virus can slip through small holes in regular fabric. Also, many people tend to move the mask around, touch it, or even remove it to speak when in public. Those behaviors significantly reduce the effectiveness of face coverings.

As for gloves, they spread germs from one surface to another just as hands tend to do. Your gloves can be covered in germs by the end of an outing, so they will only protect you if you remove and dispose of them properly. If you touch the outside of the gloves and then touch your face (or other items around your house) then you won’t reap as much protection from them.

And finally, wash your hands after you remove your gloves, and after handling anything you’ve brought home from the store.

Stay safe and healthy and continue to follow guidelines as they are released. If you have questions about protecting yourself from coronavirus or other infections, call your doctor to discuss your concerns.

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