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To prevent COVID-19, stick to the basics

One of the best steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to thoroughly wash your hands. // Photo illustration by Erasmus Baxter

By Erasmus Baxter

While there’s currently no vaccine for COVID-19, one of the best ways you can prevent its spread is already in your hands. Literally.

In response to the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending covering coughs, avoiding touching your face, staying home if you’re sick — and washing your hands.

“You have another line of defense,” said Kristen Childress, who has been washing her hands professionally for more than 25 years.

Handwashing reduces the amount of infectious material on your hands that could enter your body if you do end up touching the areas of your face where disease could enter, said Childress, a lecturer at the University of Washington’s nursing school.

She recommends using antibacterial soap, going over all hand surfaces and under nails, and washing your hands for at least 20 seconds — the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. (You can also use this list of songs with 20-second choruses a Twitter user put together.)

Waiting for the bus in the Viking Union last week, Lexie Nelson said she’s been trying to be more diligent about paying attention to what she touches, especially in public.

Working in a restaurant, she learned to do 10 seconds with hot water, 10 seconds with soap and then 10 seconds rinsing, before turning off the faucet with a paper towel. 

“I always feel confident washing my hands like that,” she said.

If some of these steps seem like a lot of work, there’s good news. While antibacterial soap is recommended in health care settings, the CDC says plain soap is just as effective for average consumers. They also say there has also not been any research showing using hot water and turning off the faucet with a paper towel instead of bare hands makes a difference.

Research has shown that most important is thoroughly scrubbing all parts of your hands — particularly under nails — for 15 to 30 seconds, and drying with a clean towel or air dryer.

Childress said making sure your hands stay moisturized is also a key part of hygiene. Skin is armor; cracks, even microscopic, can allow infection to enter. She suggests avoiding scented moisturizers that include alcohol, as it can dry out hands further.

The CDC says hand sanitizer can also be used as long as it at least 60% alcohol, but it is not as effective as washing with soap and water.

Mariel Relyea, also waiting for the bus, said they haven’t changed their handwashing procedure because they think concerns are blown out of proportion, but noted they already wash their hands for around 20 seconds.

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