Coronavirus Update: Used masks, gloves litter creating public health hazard

COMMACK, Long Island (WABC) -- You may have already noticed, and if you haven't, take a look around and you will see used masks and gloves discarded all over the place -- mostly in store parking lots.

Infectious disease experts warn this litter creates a public health hazard.

"Some people are going to say, 'Well, you know, it was by accident or I wasn't thinking. I was in a rush,'" said Anthony Santella, associate professor of Public Health at Hofstra University. "Just think about the burden you're placing on the essential workers."

Santella said the coronavirus, depending upon temperature and weather conditions, can live on masks and gloves for a few days, even up to a week.

He said workers who have to pick up the litter are being exposed unnecessarily to health dangers.

Eyewitness News ran into one of those essential workers Friday who was cleaning up the parking lot of the Walmart in Commack.

He was wearing gloves and an air-filtering mask, but he said he still worried about his health.

"I don't know who's infected who's not infected, throwing stuff on the ground," he said. "It's disgusting."

Santella said plastic gloves can also be health hazards for small children who may be attracted to the bright colors.

"So you're putting people at risk who might not otherwise be," he said. "Let's do everyone a good service by just cleaning up after ourselves."

The PPE litter also has environmentalists concerned.

"The PPE's supposed to protect us from a healthcare crisis, not cause a plastic pollution crisis," said Adrienne Esposito, with Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Esposito said her group has been receiving calls and emails from people reporting PPE litter.

"I really think the public knows better," she said.

Santella said if people want to do a good deed and pick up PPE litter, they should use a broom or stick so they don't touch the litter with their hands. He said people should not bring the trash back inside their homes, but should toss it in an outside trash receptacle - where it belonged in the first place.

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