May 7, 2020

CDC Publishes Instructions for Optimizing Disposable Glove Supply

With critical medical supplies dwindling, CDC has released instructions intended to help federal, state, and local public health officials and healthcare leaders optimize their stocks of disposable medical gloves during the COVID-19 pandemic. The instructions include strategies specific to conventional capacity, contingency capacity, and crisis capacity scenarios.

Conventional capacity measures mean providing healthcare without any change in daily practices. These practices, which include prioritizing sterile gloves for surgical procedures, should already be in place in healthcare settings for general infection prevention and control purposes.

Contingency capacity measures may change daily standard practices according to the needs of the situation, but do not significantly affect either the care delivered to the patient or the safety of healthcare workers. These measures, which should be put in place temporarily during expected glove shortages, include using non-sterile disposable gloves beyond their manufacturer-designated shelf life for training activities and using gloves that conform to other U.S. and international standards similar to those approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Several types of gloves that may fall into this category are identified in the CDC guidelines.

Crisis capacity measures are not, in ordinary circumstances, adequate to U.S. standards of care, but may need to be considered during periods of glove shortages. For example, in extraordinary circumstances, healthcare workers may consider using non-sterile disposable gloves beyond their shelf life even while delivering healthcare services—however, CDC emphasizes that sterile gloves past their manufacturer-designated shelf life should not be used for sterile procedures, such as surgery.

Non-sterile disposable gloves should also be prioritized for circumstances where gloves are recommended to protect healthcare workers’ hands from hazardous substances, including body fluids, such as during wound care and aerosol-generating procedures. When supplies of disposable medical gloves are severely limited, workers may need to consider using non-healthcare disposable gloves, such as those specialized for food service or handling industrial chemicals, in situations that do not expose them to pathogens.

Finally, CDC offers guidance on the extended use of disposable medical gloves, that is, the practice of wearing gloves without changing them between patients or tasks, often when caring for patients in the same cohort. During a glove supply crisis, gloves can remain on but must be sanitized between patients within the cohort, and at intervals where gloves would normally be changed. The CDC guidance provides instructions on how to disinfect gloves with either alcohol-based hand sanitizers, soap and water, or diluted bleach solution.

However, CDC still advises that medical gloves always be discarded after visible soiling, contamination by blood or other bodily fluids, any damage or degradation, doffing, and after a maximum of four hours of continuous use. CDC offers more information about conserving other PPE, such as eye protection, gowns, facemasks, and N95 respirators.