Let me state up front I am not an infection control expert, nor do I have any inside information about coronavirus.

I am a firefighter/EMT that began down my career path in 1986; a journey that’s provided me training in multiple related disciplines, all of which require significant use of Personal Protective Equipment of one type of another.

Over the past 34 years I’ve been an EMT, an Advanced EMT, a Hazardous Materials Technician and Haz-mat team officer, as well as serving at every level of the Rockland Fire & EMS department.

Currently we’re dealing with a global pandemic caused by coronavirus. As we try to get a handle on this crisis, we’re seeing tons of information, and sadly misinformation, on how best to protect ourselves and others.

To me the only reliable information is that which can directly accessed, not anything that’s a copied list of suggestion in an email forwarded three times or more.

Thankfully, most of the email chains I’ve seen probably do not provide dangerous tips or information, as long as you consider them in conjunction with State and Federal CDC recommendations. Much like not staking our financial future on an email from the Prince of some far off land, we must truly trust the source and be able to find direct guidance by using just simple searches.

Alas, the real reason I wrote this is to address the use of barrier gloves by non-healthcare workers. Personal protective barrier gloves are great when the user understands their limitations, the proper way to put them on and more importantly how to take them off. So here’ s brief look at the three phases of barrier glove use:

1. Putting gloves on (Donning). Sure, putting on gloves is fairly simple, basically have clean hands to start, have the right size, and then don’t rip them. Easy.

2. Wearing your gloves. So now you have the gloves on, your hands are protected from things you touch. Awesome right, this is why you wear gloves, right? Well, not so fast.

As with hazardous materials, infectious virus is a potential contaminant that can be transmitted to other places and re-transmitted later. This is why our Haz-mat teams wear full suits that can completely be removed and cleaned. Think of these gloves as a second layer of skin (okay, maybe fourth layer).

Given all the CDC guidance we are not worried about contracting the Coronavirus through skin absorption, we’re really concerned about getting it in the eyes, nose or mouth. So if you touch something that’s been contaminated no matter if you have bare hands or gloves on, you cannot touch your eyes, nose, mouth.

But, you also must not touch anywhere else on your body that your not going to clean/sanitize/disinfect, for you may later touch that spot and the touch your eye, nose, mouth.

Of course, the next thing is that you cannot touch another surface that you or another person may later touch, leading to it being brought in contact with anyone’s eyes, nose or mouth. We must treat gloves like a second skin, and wash them or replace them the moment we believe they’ve been contaminated. This means if you put them on in the car before entering the supermarket, you’ve likely touched three or more potentially contaminated surfaces before you pick up your first grocery item.

Our medical professionals must wear gloves for a significant number of reasons, all of which have been around much longer than the coronavirus and many of which may be contagious via skin absorption or contact through broken skin or open cuts.

These professionals have been trained, retrained, re-certified and observed over an over so that they understand the limitations of their gloves. Frequently you’ll see them using sanitizer on gloves when changing is not practical.

Take a few moments to think about what you’re trying to protect yourself from by wearing gloves and how you might just be carrying that contagion around on your new layer of skin.

3. Removing gloves (Doffing). In Haz-Mat training the sure fire fastest way to fail a test is to improperly remove your PPE.

Typically, this is real easy to do if you hurry and aren’t thinking about the methodical steps you need to take, resulting in a contaminated surface toughing your skin or clean clothing under your suit.

Failure in a real incident can lead to serious injuries or worse. Using gloves to protect yourself against the coronavirus is no different, simply removing a pair of gloves can also result in your touching the outer contaminated surface with your bare skin or touching another “clean” garment or surface for later re-contamination.

Proper glove removal does take a least practicing once or twice with uncontaminated gloves if you’ve never done it before. There are many ways to do this properly that can be accessed online, such as this CDC Poster or this short YouTube Video.

In closing let me be perfectly clear, I do not discourage the use of gloves, quite the opposite. But I do believe that without understanding proper glove use and removal, they provide a false sense of security that I’ve witnessed too many times in the last few weeks.

Seeing people wearing gloves in the supermarket, then rubbing their eyes or adjusting their glasses, digging in a purse or pocket, etc., all show that we need a little more training. Proper use of gloves and masks could very well be a cornerstone of how we slow this virus or “flatten the curve”.

We just don’t know who might be infected at any given moment. Gloves and masks used properly go a long way to protect you from everyone else, and everyone else from you.

Stay safe and healthy.