Your Guide to Personal Protective Equipment

By now, you’ve probably heard the term “PPE” more times than you can count. Personal protective equipment (PPE) has become a household term due to COVID-19 and social distancing. It’s a tribute to how important PPE is to how fast the term went from obscurity to mainstream. Taking precautions to avoid getting sick is at the front of most people’s minds right now.

Getting PPE is important during the COVID-19 situation, but not all PPE is created equal. I want to go over specific PPE items and what is good, what is bad, and what you should be looking for if you need any of these items. Let’s start with the one piece of PPE that everyone is thinking about: Facemasks.


Ahh, facemasks. The recommendations about wearing them versus not wearing them have changed so much over the past few weeks and it’s hard to keep up. Initially, the government wanted us to save the masks for hospitals and health care professionals that urgently needed them. The general public was advised not to wear masks unless they were sick or coughing. Recently, however, the CDC and United States government changed their recommendation and started advising that the general public now wear “cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” Why have the recommendations changed? Who should be wearing masks?

The CDC and government changed their views on masks once it became apparent that the coronavirus can be spread even by people who have no symptoms. It is possible to have the disease and feel completely fine without having any symptoms. To help slow the spread of coronavirus, we are now working under the assumption that anyone and everyone has or could have the virus. One thing should be clarified, though: wearing a mask does not guarantee protection from COVID-19 to you or those around you. Masks can help prevent spreading the virus but can’t prevent you from getting the virus.

Masks that are available to the public are meant to prevent a sick person from spreading the disease. Those people you see at the grocery store looking goofy with their masks or bandanas or scarves aren’t just wearing them because they’re scared of getting sick. They are wearing them to prevent themselves from spreading the virus, whether they know that or not. The best thing you can do during this pandemic is to stay home. If you must leave your house for any reason, it is recommended that you wear a mask to prevent yourself from potentially spreading the disease.

Alternative Facemasks

Masks have been difficult to obtain, even for the healthcare professionals who desperately need them.  This is why the CDC is also recommending general face coverings instead of just masks. The CDC has a great link talking about what kind of masks and face coverings are preferred, how to wear them, and how to make them (there are even options for people who don’t know how to sew). Making your own mask at home or wearing a general face covering is also a good idea because you can use these items more than once. Medical supply masks are only meant to be used once. Single-use masks can get expensive, especially with the prices of masks during this time.

As a pharmacist working with the general public, I could potentially be exposed to the virus every time I go to work. I try to wear a mask when I need to leave the house for food or other necessities because if there is a chance that I have been exposed to the virus, I don’t want to spread it at work or home. It’s important to understand why we should all be wearing masks or face coverings in public.

Recently I was waiting in line to check out at a grocery store when a woman behind me told me that wearing a mask wasn’t going to help prevent me from getting sick and that I looked paranoid wearing one. I gently explained that I was wearing the mask to protect the people around me that I might come into contact with.” This is something everyone needs to understand. Masks aren’t providing protection to the person wearing them. They are providing protection to everyone around that person.


Recommending gloves is still a bit tricky. People tend to feel safer and more secure wearing gloves, but this isn’t always the case.  A good way to view gloves is as a second skin. Anything you touch can contaminate your gloves, which can in-turn contaminate anything else you touch after.

For example, you may wear gloves to the store because you plan on paying by credit card and don’t want to touch the pin pad when checking out. You use the pin pad, and then, wearing the same gloves, proceed to go back home. On your way home, you touch your purse/wallet, your sunglasses to put them on your face, your keys, your steering wheel, or any other personal item. Maybe you stop to get food from a drive-thru, still wearing your gloves. By the time you get home, you could still have been exposed to the virus in many ways even though you had gloves on!

Using Gloves Safely

The best recommendation on wearing gloves is to remove them as soon as you are done doing whatever required them in the first place. Gloves are more difficult to keep clean than your hands since you can repeatedly wash your hands or use sanitizer. Some studies have shown that the virus can live on surfaces for a few hours to days depending on the surface type, so you definitely will want to remove your gloves before you touch your face or your other personal items like your purse, sunglasses, car keys, etc. I have seen some people wear a glove on one hand only. This way they have their other, clean hand to touch their personal belongings and use their gloved hand to touch the contaminated surfaces. Otherwise, it is most effective to just wash your hands after any potential exposure.

Gloves are meant to be used only once, so make sure to dispose of them properly when you are done with them. Sadly, I have seen too many used gloves discarded in stores and parking lots, left for poor employees to potentially be exposed to when they clean them up. If you are wearing and using gloves, please make sure you discard your gloves and single-use PPE in the garbage.

Simple Steps to Protect Yourself

People often ask me what they can do to stay healthy and keep their loved ones healthy during this time. I recommend washing your hands with soap and warm water often, staying at home whenever possible, and definitely to follow social distancing guidelines. Remember that the people wearing masks are not paranoid or being unreasonable and that they might actually be preventing you from getting sick. We need to work together to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and wearing a face-covering when you need to leave the house is an easy way to help do your part.

Protecting our Customers and Team at Oswald’s

Working in healthcare at any level is dangerous right now. Over the past month-and-a-half, our pharmacy (and the rest of the store) have taken many steps to ensure our customers and employees stay healthy. Oswald’s is now offering delivery and curbside pickup for prescriptions as well as front store items to prevent too many people from coming into the store. Our delivery drivers and curbside pickup employees have full access to PPE, including masks, gloves, sanitizer, and anti-microbial wipes to ensure there is no cross-contamination between customers.

We want to offer as much protection as we can to everyone in our community. Our checkout counters have all been modified with plastic barriers and the carpet near checkouts has been marked with blue Xs according to social distance guidelines. The pharmacy counter has been enclosed in a protective plastic barrier to prevent unwanted floating particles from getting in. Lastly, our team members all have access to hand sanitizer, anti-microbial wipes, masks, and gloves for specific tasks and customer interaction. The featured image for this blog is a picture of the pharmacy counter at Oswald’s as I write this article. We had some fun and decorated the plastic barrier to look like an aquarium after many customers told us that’s what the plastic made it look like!

We are periodically getting masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves in. If you need any PPE products, give us a call and speak to one of our personal shoppers. Our personal shoppers are on-site and can put your order together for curbside pickup or delivery (in Naperville). Stay safe, stay healthy, and let us know if we can do anything for you!

Written by Hannah, PharmD

Hannah started working for Oswald’s Pharmacy in 2018. Hannah is a pharmacist focused on service and pharmacy innovation.