Posted on Apr 9, 2020

Wearing Scrubs in Public? Expert Says No.

Wearing Scrubs in Public? Expert Says No.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, navigating a grocery store comes with a dose of unease. That unease can be amplified when shoppers see health care workers wearing scrubs.

Earlier this week, a Fox 35 story made national news after a shopper confronted Julian Roberts, a woman wearing scrubs at a grocery store in Palm Beach, Fla. According to the video captured during the confrontation, the shopper didn’t think that Roberts should be wearing scrubs in the grocery store and potentially exposing everyone to the coronavirus. Roberts later told reporters that she works at an audiologist office and isn’t exposed to the virus at work.

At a time when health care workers are being applauded and supported for their frontline efforts, the general public is still scared about the spread of coronavirus.

According to Susan M. Perry, PhD, CRNA, ARNP, FAAN, who served as an infection control officer in the U.S. Air Force in the 1990s, wearing scrubs in public is a valid concern. However, her concerns involve what bacteria are on the scrubs and being taken into hospitals, exposing those most at risk. According to Dr. Perry, scrubs have become popular over the years—with some wearing them for comfort—but also many employers, including dental offices, require staff to wear scrubs.

“Health care workers should be advised to not wear scrubs anywhere in public during this time. It would be more considerate of the public concern to change out of scrubs before going into anywhere other than your workplace. That would mean either only wearing the scrubs to and from work and home or wearing other clothes into work and changing in and out of them at work,” Dr. Perry said. “Right now, seeing scrubs in public could cause people to feel uneasy. It also sends the wrong message to the public about how careful the health care workers are being to protect the public. At times like this perception is reality.”

Dr. Perry adds that many hospitals do not enforce staff changing in and out of their scrubs at the start and end of their shifts. But during this high-alert pandemic, she recommends this be the practice to prevent further panic.

Health care facilities differ on their policies regarding whether employees should be transporting medical clothing from the workplace and wearing them outside the workplace.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities, “Although OSHA regulations prohibit home laundering of items that are considered personal protective apparel or equipment (e.g., laboratory coats), experts disagree about whether this regulation extends to uniforms and scrub suits that are not contaminated with blood or other potentially infectious material.”

The CDC has a comprehensive list of ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but Dr. Perry has additional observations regarding everyday ways to stay protected:

  • When heading out to the stores, try to prevent anyone else from touching your items. Pay with your phone and either do self-checkout or hold up your items so the cashier can scan them.
  • Wipe down every item you bring into your home. When returning from the supermarket, if you can, keep canned or packaged goods in the garage for a few days before bringing them into your pantry.
  • For items that need to be refrigerated, throw out any packaging and wash the items with soap and water. Then store in Tupperware or Pyrex before placing them in your refrigerator.
  • If you receive a delivery, leave the box outside. Remove the items while you are outside, bring the items in your home, and break down the boxes a few days later.
  • Wear a cloth or other type mask when outdoors.
  • While you can wear gloves when handling contaminated items, washing your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds is just as effective. It is OK to wash contaminated items with regular laundry using the warmest water temperature appropriate.
  • Keep shoes that you wear when out and about outdoors.

Story by Jessica Samaniego, USF College of Nursing