GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As more people utilize gloves and masks amid the pandemic, more of them are ending up littered across West Michigan parking lots.
"It's really getting crazy out here because I have plenty of trashcans," said Steve Melton, a Grand Rapids groundskeeper. "But, they throw their gloves, their masks, everything that they are done with, down in my parking lot."
The littering of masks, gloves and sanitizing wipes poses a potential health risk to the essential workers often tasked with picking them up.
"Because the unfortunate part is that people do go out when they are sick and they have the potential of making other people very, very sick," said Kent County Health Department's Environmental Health Director Sara Simmonds.
Simmonds asks those who are uncomfortable with using a public trashcan to bring their own bag from home to dispose of their gloves before getting in their vehicle. Then take that bag home and throw it in your own trash.
Beyond the possible health risk, the littering of these items also creates a environmental hazard, as many of these items will end up in the storm drain.
"What we don't want is a long-term cleanup effort of gloves and masks because people weren't willing to use their trashcan," Simmonds said.
Simmonds also says people should not view cloth masks—which Whitmer has urged all residents to wear in public— or gloves as safe guards from the virus. Cloth masks, she says, are an excellent way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to other people, as the mask can take in droplets if you cough or sneeze.
"But, it's not by any stretch something that would absolutely prevent the transmission of the virus," Simmonds said.
While wearing gloves, Simmonds warns people not to become lackadaisical about touching their face or personal items, like their phones.
"Gloves have a potential of creating a false sense of security, when hand washing is really the greatest help for reducing transmission of the virus," she said.
Masks should be worn in all public settings, but also need to be laundered on a regular basis, Simmonds said. Gloves should be worn for a specific instance and then disposed of afterward.
Simmonds said it's most important that people follow the stay at home order and reserve medical equipment (N95, surgical masks, etc.,) for health care workers who are treating COVID-19 patients.
Melton says he hopes people will heed those orders.
"Please help. With your help we will get past this," he said. "Look out for your neighbor...use the trashcans. If you don't help, it's not going to get better."
WATCH BELOW: Kent County Health Department Immunization Officer Mary Wisinski shows how to properly doff gloves
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