There’s a great deal of information available on protective gear and its recommended use during the present pandemic. In a healthcare environment, full gowns, face shields, masks, and gloves are frequently used when there’s any great chance of exposure. The general public, on the other hand, is advised to wear cloth masks, wash their hands, and stay away from people.
But there a lot of essential workers out there who have no choice but to deal with the outside world and perhaps even sick people, sometimes even in enclosed and poorly ventilated areas. Likewise, anyone using public or mass transportation, whether a bus, train, plane, or subway — or even an Uber, come right down to it — will be sharing the air with another person for a substantial period of time. What then?
If you’re in this group, your employer has likely provided guidelines. Uber, for example, is requiring masks for both drivers and passengers; they’ve also increased surface disinfection frequency in their vehicles. Amtrak and most bus lines are distancing passengers as well. These are useful, but they’re not everything you can do.
So what about the rest of PPE? What about goggles, gowns, gloves and such? Why don’t we wear these? Well, perhaps we should.
While the single greatest transmission avenue for COVID-19 is the mucus membranes of the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs, it’s also possible for the infection to get in through the eyes — possibly by touching a contaminated surface and then rubbing your eyes, or perhaps even through water droplets in the air. And, while a cloth mask provides some protection for your nose and mouth, it will do nothing for your eyes.
The CDC is not recommending safety glasses to the general public at this point, but it might not be a bad idea anyway. NIOSH has provided some eye protection guidance for health workers, however, to the effect that safety glasses, while useful to prevent impact, don’t seal around the eyes and often directly vent to the atmosphere. This will provide minimal anti-droplet protection. Fitted goggles, however, vent indirectly while maintaining a decent seal. 3M recommends a goggle with an anti-fog coating, much like the one pictured above.
Full exposure suits are cumbersome, and surgical gowns aren’t very durable. More to the point, they require training for safe use. For amateurs, they can actually be more dangerous than not, as they might provide a false sense of security while creating yet one more contaminated surface to deal with. Instead, it’s recommended that we shed our shoes and outer clothes immediately upon entering our homes, and that the clothing be thoroughly washed before it’s worn again.
Much like gowns, the proper use of gloves requires training. If you’re uncertain what the glove-in-glove and bird beak methods of removal are, you might want to look into it and practice. The outer surface of even an impermeable glove can maintain infectious bodies on it, and if you touch your hand to it even briefly, you’ve defeated the entire purpose of wearing them in the first place. Likewise, gloves too may create a false sense of security; it’s too easy to touch something with a gloved hand before removing them and then ungloved after — a car door handle, for example.
We won’t tell you not to wear them, but if you do, be careful.
If you’re going on a long plane ride — or if you’re living with an infected person — you may well consider upgrading from a cloth mask to an N-95 fitted respirator. It won’t provide absolute protection — you’d need an independent air supply for that — but it’s an improvement. Again, the details are important; if you have stubble on your face, you can’t make a seal, for example, and if you remove the mask to eat in the same air as all the other passengers, you’ve defeated the purpose of wearing it.
The EPA has released some guidance for air conditioning, as has ASHRAE. As the virus is known to survive in airborne water droplets, the dehumidifying effect of air conditioning is recommended, as is filtering. In addition, excessive heat will stress the body, creating vulnerability. A/C is now a health issue.
The Bottom Line
TNFN is not a doctor; we don’t provide medical advice. When in doubt, talk to a doctor.
You’re the one who’ll have to wear this stuff. If you bridle at wearing a mask because it doesn’t protect you much, think about adding goggles — which protect nobody but you. If you’re apt to scratch your scalp or rub your eyes, gloves may not help you even a little; perhaps frequent handwashing is wiser. Think about it; take your time.
Wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands in hot soapy water. Plus, maybe get some goggles.
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