I spent almost thirty years of my professional life wearing PPE. Let me explain why it shouldn’t be randomly worn by the general public.
Sally Scientist is fresh out of university with the ink still wet on her degree certificate. She has started her first job in a pathology laboratory and has had to endure two weeks of induction training in a classroom, before finally setting foot in the lab itself. She has a sparkly white lab-coat and surgical gloves within reach. She has arrived.
She is placed in the care of Oliver Oldie, who is tasked with showing her the ropes. They don their gloves and he shows her how to load two dozen samples on to a large analyser. Then he watches while she is allowed to load the next two hundred.
The dirty work done, Oliver automatically removes his gloves and throws them away. Sally keeps her gloves on, after all, she is now an important scientist. Oliver asks her to collect something from the cold room, so off she goes: touching the laboratory door handle, the cold room door handle, the light switch and the shelves on the way.
When she arrives back, the telephone is ringing so she answers it, phone up to her ear in gloved hand. The caller asks a question, so Sally pulls up a chair and proceeds to tap away at the laboratory computer. Sally is keen to be helpful.
Oliver turns around and pales. In under five minutes Sally has potentially contaminated two door handles, a light switch, the telephone, a chair and a keyboard, not to mention her hair and a dangly earring. Oliver sighs and grabs a bottle of Hibiscrub in one hand and bleach in the other. He will spend the next two weeks hissing “take your gloves off” and following Sally on a decontamination trail before she too, will be removing her gloves automatically and throwing them away once the dirty work is done.
So where do I stand when members of the public take to wearing PPE of their own accord? Clearly not comfortably. Ask yourself why you want to wear PPE. Is it to protect yourself? Or to protect others? Using PPE can give the wearer a feeling of being invincible, but this doesn’t mean that it is safe to change your behaviour. You should behave in exactly the same way as if you are not wearing PPE and treat every transaction as though it contains a hazard.
Oliver Oldie has behaved in a way that gives both himself, and everyone around him, the maximum protection from biological hazards. Sally Scientist has protected herself, but exposed everyone else to maximum risk. The moral of the story? If you are going to wear PPE, think hard about your own actions. Protect others as well as yourself. Think about experienced Ollie and behave likewise, please don’t be a silly Sally and infect the rest of us.
For me, it’s social distancing and hand gel all the way. I will leave the gloves and masks for the professionals – who need them far more than I do.