Personal protective equipment plays important virus-fighting role

As we work to stay current with news about COVID-19 and the role each of us plays in protecting ourselves and others from it, one of the terms we often hear is personal protective equipment (PPE). While relatively straightforward in describing equipment that people can use to protect themselves during the pandemic, the term covers a broad range of items, some reserved for health care professionals and others the public could find helpful.

Personal protective equipment plays important virus-fighting role
Personal protective equipment plays important virus-fighting role


The following is a brief guide to PPE, the safety role these items serve during the pandemic, what to use, and how to use it. 


Made of rubber, latex, or vinyl, gloves help health care workers protect the skin on their hands from acquiring virus particles. Although it has not been recommended that the public regularly wear gloves, you may want to do so for the same reason when you’re in public for a life-sustaining reason such as grocery shopping. 

It’s extremely important to remember, though, that any virus particles picked up on the gloves can be transferred to whatever you touch. That’s why you should exercise the same caution as health care providers do and be careful about where and what you touch when wearing gloves—you don’t want to transfer the virus to your face, mouth, or eyes and infect yourself.

If you wear gloves, be careful when removing them and always wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after removing them. And, please, dispose of them in the trash; don’t leave them in the grocery cart when you’re done. 

Respirators and face masks

Health care workers sometimes wear a special mask called a respirator when treating patients or during certain care procedures to protect themselves from breathing in virus particles that are suspended in the air. It is not necessary for you as a member of the public to wear a respirator.

While you do not need a respirator, Pennsylvanians are asked to wear a face mask anytime you leave your home for a life-sustaining reason. A homemade mask or even a scarf or bandana would be fine as long as it covers the nose and mouth.

If you are sick, wearing a face mask may lower the chances of you transmitting the virus to others. You should wear a face mask when you are around other people and when entering a health care provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a face mask, cover your coughs and sneezes in your shoulder or crook of your arm, not in your hand. People who are caring for you also should wear a face mask when they are around you.

If you are not sick, you do not need to wear a mask in your home unless you are caring for someone who is sick and is unable to wear a face mask.

When you wear a face mask, do not touch it after putting it on. If you do touch or readjust it, wash your hands. Remove it and throw it away if it’s dirty, damaged or hard to breathe through. If you’re using a homemade cloth mask, wash after each use and don’t wear ones that are damp or wet from spit or mucus.

And always wash your hands with soap and warm water when you remove your face mask, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.


It is not currently recommended that you wear protective clothing such as a gown when in public. Health care professionals commonly wear nonsterile, disposable gowns for routine patient care in health care settings. They also don protective clothing such as surgical gowns and isolation gowns to protect patients and themselves from the transfer of microorganisms by blood and bodily fluids. The type of gown worn depends on the level of protection a health care provider needs.

Most important: Wash your hands! 

Hand washing is the most important action that everyone can take to prevent the spread of infection.

Wash with soap and warm water for 20 seconds to remove virus particles from your skin.

You do not need antibacterial soap because it’s the physical action of washing that removes unwanted virus particles. Also, use warm, not hot, water to prevent drying your skin.

If soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand rub. To be effective, though, the hand rubs or gels need to have at least 60 percent to 70 percent alcohol content.

If you don’t absolutely need to leave your house, stay home. If you must venture out for groceries or you’re an essential employee, for instance, keep these guidelines in mind to help you and your community stay healthy.