From California and Texas to New Hampshire and New York, there's a "new, disgusting trend" cropping up around the coronavirus, and it's a potentially dangerous one. The Washington Post and other outlets report on the "small pops of color" suddenly showing up in parking lots, by the side of the road, in shopping carts, in people's yards, and along nature trails: discarded face masks, sanitizing wipes, and latex gloves used to keep the virus at bay, dropped by people where they're standing. Research suggests the virus that causes COVID-19 can linger for hours or even days on certain surfaces—including up to three days on plastic—meaning supermarket and sanitation workers may assume some risk by picking up such litter. "[People] throw these ... and expect a homeowner or business owner to pick them up. What are they thinking?" a resident of a Chicago suburb tells the Daily Herald.
Not only is this type of debris potentially harmful to humans trying to avoid getting sick, but it can be bad for the environment: Because they're not biodegradable or able to be recycled, masks and gloves may end up in bodies of water as they're swept away by rain. They may also be ingested by wildlife, especially marine creatures. Some towns are putting steep fines in place to discourage this kind of littering. "It's not like [they're] throwing out candy wrappers. They're throwing out medical waste ... that could potentially be contaminated with coronavirus," says the supervisor of Yorktown, NY, where such litterers will now be hit with a $1,000 fine for a first offense. The Post notes that other officials are simply hoping "public shaming" might do the trick. "People who do this show that they care more about themselves than other people," Paul Heroux, the mayor of Attleboro, Mass., wrote on Facebook. (Read more coronavirus stories.)