Fire chiefs take gloves off in COVID-19 precaution debate

Masks effective, but average citizen may spread virus more with gloves

📸 Kathy Rodriguez photos for The Citizen Chronicle.

Many people have been taking various precautions against the coronavirus, but some officials say the average citizen may be doing more harm than good.

While area fire chiefs unanimously supported social distancing measures and wearing masks when in public, the use of gloves was an area of concern. Officials said the average citizen may be unwittingly spreading the virus through improper usage of gloves meant to protect individuals from COVID-19. Cross-contamination, improper removal and disposal, and a false sense of security were among the concerns voiced by local chiefs.

Dudley Fire Chief Dean Kochanowski said during last week’s virtual meeting of the Dudley Board of Selectmen that he and members of his department “are seeing a lot of disturbing things with the general public and the use of gloves.” Kochanowski said he has spotted people driving while wearing gloves, or shoppers in the grocery market reaching into their pocketbooks or pants for items.

“Gloves really aren’t appropriate in that scope. All you’re doing is spreading the germs worse because you’re getting things on the gloves, you’re reaching into your pocket book, you’re picking up food. Every time you perform an action you would have to take the gloves off,” Kochanowski explained. “If you reached into your pocketbook, you should have to take the gloves off, reach into the pocketbook, and then put a new pair of gloves on. I am stating that hand washing and hand sanitizing more frequently is a much more effective way to prevent the spread of germs.”

Auburn Fire Chief Stephen Coleman Jr. echoed those thoughts in an interview Friday afternoon, noting people may be unaware of the cross contamination resulting from these actions.

“Gloves for the everyday citizen is a false sense of security for them. When the average citizen puts on a pair of gloves and they head out for the day, in their mind they’re thinking they’re protecting themselves,” Coleman explained. “Everything you touch, even your own personal property, you’ve transmitted the virus.”

Coleman noted that on an average ambulance call, a single paramedic may change gloves a half dozen times to avoid cross contamination during different examination and medical procedures.

“Anything you touch, if you have the virus on you, be it a bare hand or a gloved hand, you’re going to transmit the virus,” he said.

To illustrate the potential spread of germs, Coleman said if one was to wear a pair of gloves and put them in white powder, the visible trail left behind would likely surprise many.

“They would realize how much cross contamination there really is with those gloves,” he affirmed. “They’re designed for healthcare providers so not only don’t we cross contaminate you, but also so you don’t cross contaminate us.”

Gloves littering parking lots, spreading germs

Coleman and Kochanowski also noted many people are improperly removing gloves, or leaving them behind and littering.

“The other thing we’re finding is people are leaving them in parking lots, just disposing of them next to their car and driving away. That’s bad,” Kochanowski told selectmen last week. “You’re not helping anybody by wearing gloves everywhere, getting in your car, touching doorknobs, leaving them in parking lots; because all you’re doing is spreading the virus worse.”

Coleman agreed, noting he has witnessed people “just ripping [gloves] off their hands,” and “allowing it to splatter somewhere else.”

Officials said medical professionals are trained on the proper method for removing gloves to avoid cross contamination and exposure to germs. That training has not occurred for the average person, potentially resulting in any germs on the glove being transferred to the individual wearing them if removed improperly.

Hand washing, hand sanitizer best bets

The best precautions individuals can take to stop the spread of germs with their hands is to frequently wash their hands and use hand sanitizer.

“Wash your hands every time you’re out in the public and you do something,” Coleman said. “Leave the gloves at home.”

Kochanowski agreed.

“Hand washing and hand sanitizing more frequently is a much more effective way to prevent the spread of germs,” he said. “If you have the availability of hand sanitizer — I know it’s hard to get right now — but if you have that availability, keep a bottle in your car, keep a bottle in your pocketbook, and use it more liberally.”

Masks, social distancing keys to prevention

Coleman said the wearing of masks is also important, noting he has been “amazed” by the number of people not wearing masks in stores and in public. He said masks, whether medical in nature or homemade, should cover both the mouth and nose in order to protect both the individual wearing it as well as those they come in contact with.

Face mask made by Yolanda Hatzidis

“I’m protecting myself so I don’t give it, but also so I don’t receive it,” he explained. “Especially over the next 30 days … everybody that is out in public should be wearing a mask.”

Coleman later added: “We all need to take a little personal responsibility.”

When it comes to sanitizing masks, Coleman noted there are some important do’s and don’ts.

“If you have a true medical grade mask … it’s really just about letting them dry,” the fire chief explained, suggesting individuals can place their mask in a sealed brown paper bag. The paper bag will help the mask dry and does not result in the possibility of chemical contamination that could occur with plastic bags.

“If you’re using a handkerchief or some other homemade product, I would recommend periodically, but wash it separately,” Coleman said. He noted that depending on the elastic band’s size and durability, some may choose to hand wash their homemade masks in hot water instead of placing it in the washing machine.

Ultimately, officials agree the best protection is continued isolation whenever possible.

“The best advice that all the medical professionals have, if you don’t have to go out, stay home,” Coleman said. “If you can really limit your circle of people you’re interacting with, that’s certainly the best.”


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