To end this week’s series on COVID-19 facts, I want to return to the single most important strategy to help stay safe during all of this chaos. It’s something your parents nagged you about growing up, and I’m going to nag you again about it now…
Wash your hands.
Because you really don’t know what they’ve been in contact with. And if you’re like most people, you have less control than you realize over where they go after that—whether it’s on a doorknob or your face.
Your not-so-secret weapon
Let me take a moment to explain just how powerful regular hand-washing—with plain old soap and water—against germs really is.
When you wash your hands, you’re not just removing dirt and germs. The soap that you use is actively destroying the virus. (And I trust I don’t need to explain the benefit in that.)
You see, coronaviruses (of which COVID-19 is simply just the newest) are encased in what’s called a lipid envelope—basically, a layer of fat. Soap is able to bust that layer apart, effectively killing the virus in the process. Soap also makes your skin slippery, which makes the germs easier to rub off.
And yes, I mean plain old soap, too. As I’ve told you time and again, antibacterial soaps aren’t necessary at all. (Nor are they any more effective against viruses like COVID-19.)
Ultimately, the important part isn’t the product you’re using. It’s your handwashing technique. And that’s part of the problem here. Because believe it or not, research shows that fewer than five percent of the public are actually washing their hands correctly on a regular basis.
So as obvious as it might seem, I can’t think of a better time to review the basics than now…
Happy birthday, times two
First of all, it doesn’t matter if the water is hot or cold—just that you’re using it. As for soap, again, antibacterial varieties aren’t necessary. But avoid foams and stick with liquid soaps—they’re much more effective.
Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds—that’s the amount of time it takes to hum “Happy Birthday,” from start to finish, twice. And make sure you’re thorough. Focus on areas where germs could hide, like around your fingernails and on the backs of your hands.
Then rinse and dry—with paper towels, if available, since the extra rubbing will remove even more germs. (And do a good job—dry hands are much less likely to pick up and spread germs.)
As for how often you need to wash—the answer is… a lot. At the very least:
- Before, during, and after cooking and handling food
- Before you eat
- Before and after you tend to a sick person
- After you use the bathroom
- After changing diapers or helping another person use the bathroom
- After touching animals or pet food and waste
- After touching garbage
- And obviously, after coughing, sneezing, or nose-blowing
And if you absolutely can’t wash your hands with soap and water for whatever reason?
Then yes, go ahead and reach for some hand sanitizer. But it must be higher than 62 percent alcohol to be effective). Cover your hands entirely with it, and let it sit for 20 seconds.
And most importantly, keep your hands away from your face, where any viruses or bacteria could gain entry into your system through your eyes, nose, mouth, or ears.
This is one case where a little vigilance goes a long way—not just against coronavirus, but against any pathogen that’s making the rounds. And that’s the truth, 365 days a year.
“The Power of Hand-Washing to Prevent Coronavirus.” Medscape Medical News, 03/06/2020. (medscape.com/viewarticle/926373)