Montreal·Video

How dangerous are discarded masks and gloves littering Montreal's streets?

Many of the gloves and masks worn by people trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 seem to be finding their way onto sidewalks and in gutters, and the trash has prompted calls for people to be more respectful of their fellow citizens.

Virologist says if you touch contaminated rubbish, wash your hands

Gloves and masks worn by people trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are discarded on Montreal's sidewalks and gutters. 2:19

Many of the gloves and masks worn by people trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 seem to be finding their way onto sidewalks and in gutters, and the trash has prompted calls for people to be more respectful of their fellow citizens.

Like a lot of people, Katy Cavanaugh has been working from home lately. She started going for daily strolls to help break up the day and to try to maintain some work-life balance.

Noticing the increase in medical litter, she said she thinks people are being selfish. 

"I'm assuming people don't want to bring them into their house to throw them away because they're probably contaminated," she said. "I'm wondering why they think it's OK to put them on the ground?"

"Someone's eventually going to have to pick them up."

Benoit Barbeau, a virologist in the department of biological sciences at l'Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), said most of the gloves and masks scattered in the street are a nuisance, but they're not likely a major health risk. 

The most highly contaminated equipment is what's being used by health-care workers in hospitals.

Barbeau said none of that would end up as litter because it's all carefully decontaminated and discarded. The rubbish in the streets, he said, was likely tossed away after being used as a prevention tool.

Katy Cavanaugh snapped photos of discarded gloves and masks in Montreal's La Petite-Patrie neighbourhood while she was out for a walk. (Submitted by Katy Cavanaugh)

"This material is most likely not extremely dangerous, but I would consider it as potentially contaminated," Barbeau said. He said the only potential risk would be if you touch the discarded gear.

He said even if a mask or glove is contaminated, depending on how long it's been outside, the virus might have already died off.

"The virus won't leave the surface and jump on your face, but if you start handling it with your hands," he said, there could be a low risk of contamination.

In any case, he said, clean-up crews picking up that kind of litter are safe as long as they wear gloves, remove their gloves afterwards, and follow up by washing their hands. 

Just the same, some Montrealers are asking their fellow citizens to be more respectful, and throw out their waste properly. 

For more, watch the video at the top of this story.

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