Is wearing gloves an effective defense against COVID-19?

someone wearing gloves pushing grocery cart
Editor’s note: As what we know about COVID-19 evolves, so could the information contained in this story. Find our most recent COVID-19 blog posts here, and learn the latest in COVID-19 prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pop into a grocery store and chances are you’ll see shoppers wearing latex or similar gloves as they wheel shopping carts around. They’re wearing the gloves as a way to prevent getting COVID-19. 

But is wearing gloves going to protect you from the virus? It really depends on the circumstances, and here’s why:
COVID-19 is spread mainly in the air
The virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly spread from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. And that happens when people are within 6 feet of one another. The other way you can get the virus is from contaminated surfaces. So whenever you touch a surface with the virus on it and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes, you’ve possibly exposed yourself to the virus. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says this doesn’t appear to be the main way that the virus is spread.
Gloves = false sense of security?
Thoroughly washing your hands for at least 20 seconds remains the best defense against COVID-19. But when you go to the grocery or other public places, you may not have access to soap and water, hand sanitizer or wipes to clean grocery carts. That’s why some people are wearing gloves. But wearing gloves can give you a false sense of security. Because the virus adheres well to latex and other types of gloves, if you touch your face at any point, you’ve still potentially exposed yourself to the virus.
Proper glove use is key
Plus, many people don’t know the proper way to take off gloves and can contaminate their hands when taking off gloves. For example, after you take off your left glove with your right gloved hand, your left hand is at that point virus free. But if you take off your right glove by touching the outside of it, you’ve potentially contaminated your left hand. You need to reach inside your right glove and peel it inside out without touching the outside, which can take some skill.
Not touching anything? No need for gloves
Another thing is that if you’re going for a walk and staying at least 6 feet from people, there’s no need to wear gloves—the virus that causes COVID-19 is only absorbed through mucous membranes, not your hands.
If you already have gloves and wearing them in highly public places like stores and public transportation helps calm your nerves, go ahead and slide a pair on. Keep in mind that you can only use them once and need to properly take them off and immediately dispose of them. Try not to touch your face with them, and wash your hands after taking them off. 
Debra Goff is an infectious disease specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and a professor of pharmacy at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. She’s the only U.S. pharmacist appointed to the World Health Organization antimicrobial stewardship programs in low- and middle-income countries.