The Science of PPE While Learning Science

Calum Tuttle

Disclaimer: Articles reflect the views of the author and/or those quoted and do not necessarily represent the views of CCBC or The CCBC Connection.

COVID-19 has had detrimental effects across the globe and the Community College of Baltimore County is no exception. While many public schools, colleges, and universities initially made the decision in March of 2020 to transition to a completely online teaching environment, CCBC has handled the transition from exclusive online education to a hybrid course for those students who require a science lab to graduate well.

Before we continue, it’s important to highlight that while COVID-19 has been politicalized, there is no logical reason as to why this has been the case. COVID-19, while not a political issue, requires a governmental policy response. My position on this issue is not a reflection of my political beliefs but rather based on my observations and experience over the past year.

Most colleges require a science credit for graduation which generally includes a lab class. Prior to COVID-19 the science labs at CCBC only required that students not wear open-toed shoes or cut-off shirts while conducting experiments in the lab classrooms. Normally, gloves and goggles would be worn by students only if there was a lab being conducted that had potential for harmful gases or liquids getting into the eyes or burning of the skin. This semester students are required to wear a face mask while on campus at CCBC not only because it’s school policy but because Maryland’s Governor, Larry Hogan, has mandated it. Additionally, students in labs are required to wear gloves and the reusable face shield given to them the first day of classes.

All of these new safety protocols that are now in place makes me wonder; is this really about the safety of the students and staff or is it about the optics of the situation, making it appear that everyone is safer?

While it is understandable that the college wants to protect its students and staff from a virus that has killed thousands of people, does the amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) worn in labs not seem excessive? And perhaps even counterproductive?

About a month into quarantine, when no one on the planet understood how the virus was going to affect humanity, people put gloves on their hands to protect themselves from the virus and potentially spreading it to other surfaces. This would make sense if not for the fact that once the gloves touch any surface, they are contaminated and inevitably spread whatever germs they may contain to other people.

Not only are the gloves ineffective in stopping the spread of the virus but they also cause students and faculty members hands to sweat, making it problematic to type and write when required.

Additionally, face shields are not particularly effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only suggests that healthcare workers wear them because of their close proximity to people who have contracted the virus and that the general public should refrain from using them. With that being said, most students and faculty, when speaking or wearing a face shield for any duration will experience a buildup of condensation, making it nearly impossible to see.

The vision impairment caused by wearing the face shield is counter to the purpose of laboratory safety procedures. Not being able to see during a lab experiment where there is the potential for hot surfaces and sharp objects is not a good idea. However, I’ll concede that it’s only on rare occasions that hot plates are used, although, glass beakers and scissors are regularly utilized, particularly in biology and chemistry labs.

With the emergence of the new strain of COVID-19 the CDC has suggested wearing two masks in order to ensure minimal exposure to the virus, but again, nothing was mentioned about wearing gloves or face shields for the general public.

With the State of Maryland heavily pushing out the vaccine I speculate that we will not be required to wear all this equipment for much longer and, with any luck, return to some sort of normalcy.

All of these PPE requirements may be physiologically comforting by making some people feel safer, but realistically, a more dangerous environment has been created by impairing their senses and improper glove use.

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