There is all manner of information online about whether or not the general public should wear either gloves or masks during the pandemic. The information, even between specialists,is contradictory and we poor souls have no idea what to do. I thought I’d share my own take on the subject, bearing in mind I am as clueless as the rest of the world.
I am very lucky in that I have not had to go out in a crowded public area for nearly 3 weeks now. I live in the countryside and the only journey I am making is to town to care for my disabled parents. Despite only going between my house and theirs, however, the very first thing I do when I get there is wash my hands. Thoroughly, with soap and hot water. I dry them on a separate towel my parents keep for me in the bathroom. I am their only visitor.
I do wear gloves on some occasions – I’m lucky in that I had a box of 100 disposable gloves in the shed to do various mucky jobs with around the house. I had to have essential workmen in my home last week who I knew had touched metal and other surfaces. The virus can last well on surfaces, especially in a stable environment like a home, so after they’d gone I donned my disposable gloves and went round disinfecting everything in sight. Door knobs and frames, light switches, the toilet, taps……anything I thought they could have been in contact with, including the floors. But here’s the important bit – I then took off the gloves from the inside out and put them in the bin. I then washed my hands.
I am lucky to currently have Tesco delivery slots, and am shopping for 3 elderly friends as well as myself and my parents. Tesco are great and leave the shopping in bags at the front door. I wear a pair of bright yellow rubber marigolds to then bring the bags into the house. I take the food items out, put them on the counter and chuck out the plastic bags (the virus can linger for 72 hours on plastic!). I then wash my gloved hands, then remove the gloves. I leave them well alone in a corner away from everything until the next time I use them. I then wipe food packaging before putting it away and finally disinfect the counter tops.
I don’t really need to wear the marigolds. However, I’ve found that by doing this is really makes me think about cross contamination and I’m also much less likely to touch my face with them on. And that’s a good thing. The gloves serve no real physical purpose, but help me mentally.
The virus can also survive well on cardboard, so any boxes that have been delivered stay outside. I slit open the top with scissors and bring the contents inside. I wipe the contents down, before washing the scissors and my hands. I then don’t touch the contents for a few days – probably over-cautious, but better safe than sorry. The box and packaging is left outside for 3 days then placed in my shed ready for recycling.
I was out walking the other day and had to go through a gate. I knew that other people had also opened and closed the gate, using no precautions whatsoever. I didn’t have disposable gloves with me, so I used a mitten I had in my pocket. I then took off the mitten from the inside out so it was rolled up and put it back in my pocket before touching my car keys or the car door. My anorak and the gloves then went in the washing machine the second I got home. I then washed my hands, thoroughly with soap and hot water.
The thing about gloves is that if they come into contact with the virus, particles are then on the gloves. You have to be very mindful of that. It’s pointless wearing the same pair of gloves all day and touching everything – you’re just transferring the virus all over the place! In that situation, you’re far better to not wear gloves but use regular amounts of antibacterial hand gel containing at least 65-70% alcohol – at least, that’s my understanding, which could be totally wrong!
On to masks. As I said, I’ve not had to go to areas where there are crowds of people like a tube but I do take daily exercise. My village is teeming with folks doing the same thing and it’s actually really nice to have a chat to break the isolation. We are all being very mindful to social distance, cross over the road when we see someone else coming towards us and shout at each other from at least 6ft away!
There have been a lot of scare stories about the fact the virus can be transmitted by air, and this is based on fact. From my understanding, little as it is, if you are close to an infected person who sneezes or coughs you are at risk, not only from breathing in the virus laden air but from droplets landing on clothing and even your skin, which is why social distancing is so vitally important. The more of the virus you come into contact with, the greater the chance of infection which is why health workers in close proximity to infected patients are so at risk.
Having said the virus can be contracted via air, most of the current thinking is that the viral particles are heavier than air so will quickly travel downwards and settle on surfaces. I’m actually more concerned about what’s on the sole of my shoes when I get home rather than any fresh air I’ve breathed in, which is why my shoes come off at the door and stay there. However, other scientists are convinced the virus can be “aerosol” transmitted, ie the particles are smaller and lighter than droplets and can travel further and last longer. The truth is, no-one yet knows.
There is conflicting information about whether masks need to be worn by the general public. Some officials say they help, others say they may make the situation worse – most masks don’t fit well so people are more likely to touch their face and fiddle with them, while paper masks can become wet. Apparently. The cynical in me wonders how much of this advice exists because there is a serious shortage of masks and they are needed for health workers in close proximity to the virus (and rightly so).
After the workmen had been in my home, I wore a heavy duty DIY mask I had in the shed, with a close-fitting nose bar and a filter hole, in my house for a full 3 hours (the time during which airborne particles are thought to be infectious) which stopped me touching my face. I have no idea whether or not I needed this precaution but it felt reassuring to me.
I am not wearing a mask when walking outdoors in the countryside, but if I had to go out in town in a confined area, the pharmacy for example or the supermarket, I definitely would. I’d rather err on the side of caution. Having said all that, there is then the dilemma of what to do with the mask afterwards. I only have the one, so can’t chuck it away. I think I’d spray it with Dettol and leave it out in the shed for at least 3 days before using again.
The general public are terrified, myself included, and information can look really scary. For example, there is stuff online about viral particles being found in cruise ship cabins 17 days after the occupants left, but the story is much more complex than it looks. The presence of viral particles doesn’t mean they are infectious, transmissible, particles.
This is a novel virus. The world has little clue, really, how it survives and transmits. I wanted to know how it survived on outdoor surfaces, like styles and gates, but could find no information on how it behaves in an outdoor environment with differing temperatures and humidity because it hasn’t been studied. There is more information emerging about how it survives indoors, particularly in air-conditioned (and therefore linked) environments and contained environments like cruise ships, but as yet no-one has all the answers. We’re winging it, which is scary considering it’s a potentially lethal situation.
Personally, I’m trying to stay safe and mindful without becoming paranoid. It’s a fine line and I’m not sure in any way whether what I’m doing is right or wrong. I guess if I’m still here in 3 months time I’ll have my answer!