What protective gear do I REALLY need?

Masks Staying Safe

A: Masks? CHECK. Gloves? Probably not. Goggles and/or face shields? More complicated.

This week Team Nerdy Girls has received many questions about protective gear for everyday living – and have been steadfastly sourcing good information on the topic. We’re happy to share that Consumer Reports has recently written a terrific guide about “gearing up” for pandemic living. TL;DR: Masks are unequivocally important, while the benefits of other types of gear are both trickier to assess and highly context-dependent.

Three key take-aways for those of us regular folks going about our normal activities (i.e. not health care workers or others employed in high-risk settings):


Here at Dear Pandemic we’re big fans of mask-wearing [Editorial note: yours truly, Nerdy Girl Lindsey, is the mask model in the picture below]. We’ve written on the topic extensively and will continue to update the community as new data emerge (FYI, for those still confused about the need to wear a mask, might I suggest watching our related Dr. Seuss-inspired video on the topic?!  We’ve also written about the nuanced evidence about the effectiveness of face shields  – bottom line, face shields can be an effective addition to mask wearing. But they are not appropriate substitutes. Same goes for goggles.


Unfortunately, there’s a yawning gap between typical use and effective use when it comes to lay people wearing gloves for infection control. So much so that the CDC does NOT currently recommend that lay people wear gloves when out and about . The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology have put together a helpful infographic explaining why – gloves provide an incomplete barrier and absent careful protocols glove-wearing can actually increase the spread of germ. *An important exception: Gloves can be critically important when caring for someone who is sick. For good glove-wearing guidance, see the CDC’s “When to Wear Gloves” page (see CDC guidance link above).


Masks are wonderful – and, notably, we’re learning that typical use does indeed confer widespread, population-level benefits (in contrast to glove-wearing) – but alas, they are not a silver bullet. In the words of the wise and wonderful biostatistician Natalie Dean, we need to move past “the idea that if we just did this one thing perfectly, that we would be fine.” (link: https://n.pr/3fZnqBh). Instead we need to honor that’s it likely going to take a multi-faceted approach to beat back the Coronavirus pandemic. The HIV/AIDS pandemic provides a helpful blueprint for the struggles and successes of an ultimately effective multi-pronged approach^; so please keep the faith while you also keep wearing those masks.

^ For fellow Nerds interested in a scientific appraisal of the HIV strategy, see Detels, J. Wu, and Z. Wu’s write-up in the “Global Health Journal.”

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