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Facemasks, Gloves, Hand Sanitizer: How To Protect Against The Coronavirus?

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

How do you protect yourself from contracting this potentially fatal virus? Do masks even help? Do you need gloves? How much hand sanitizer should you have?


According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is currently no vaccination to prevent Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to avoid infection and prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to it.

The CDC provides some guidelines as to how best to do this. Because the virus is spread mainly from person-to-person contact through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing, limiting contact with infected persons is one’s greatest defense. Another piece of advice is to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing to make sure you’re doing it for 20 seconds) or to frequently use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content, covering all surfaces of your hand and rubbing them together until they feel dry.

Another essential preventative measure is to completely avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.


The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that someone who is healthy only needs to wear a mask if they are taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus. WHO adds that masks are only effective when used in conjunction with frequent hand-washing with alcohol-based rub or soap and water. If you are sneezing and coughing, it is advisable to wear a mask in order to protect those around you. WHO stresses the importance of wearing and disposing of masks properly. 

Ashely Alker, MD, MSc

“The best tool you have to protect yourself is washing your hands with soap and water. Try your best to not touch your face and cough into your elbow, not your hands.”

The National Health Service (NHS) says that face masks and gloves play a very important role for healthcare providers but that there is very little evidence that they are useful for members of the public. So next time you brave the grocery store, leave the masks alone and stock up on soap and hand sanitizer instead. Or, if you think about it, ordering these things online might work even better!

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