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Wash Your Hands, People

Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched the Safe Hands Challenge to demonstrate the many practical steps everyone can take to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Dr. Jerome Adams, the Surgeon General of the United States, embraced the challenge. He reminded everyone that washing their hands for 20 seconds, while singing “Happy Birthday” twice, is more effective than a spritz of hand sanitizer. The Surgeon General also nominated four people, including me, to take up the challenge. I certainly welcome his challenge, and here’s my response to help others prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.


  • Andrew Goldstein says:

    I think the public health benefits of handwashing would be enhanced if articles like this one emphasized when handwashing is most important. For example, when you’ve been out shopping or have touched any surface or person other than those in your home. Many of us, especially older adults have experienced dry, chapped and cracked skin on our hands from too frequent washing, which in itself could compromise the barrier that is your skin.

    • bridget says:

      I was thinking the same thing regarding the use of nail brushes. They are essential for that dirt that hangs around the cuticle and under nails. You should still perform a preliminary hand wash, or use sanitizer in this case (due to the nature of this specific pathogen), so you don’ t create a fine spray and contaminate other things in the process. Perhaps this is why no one mentions this?

      I do know the public has a short attention span and even shorter dedication to adherance, if more than one or two simple steps are involved. Presently for some, hand washing and sanitary practices are a life- style change. The constant sanitizing rituals required at every turn, is a lifestyle change for all. Since lifestyle changes are a hard sell, it’s an uphill battle.

      It is not all the public’s unwillingness. Much information and how to’s (such as in the video), are left out, yet the the public is advised to do them. We need to upgrade from our ” that’s good enough” mentality. I am still waiting for someone to give information on how to properly wear a face mask. The public needs this. I see many people wearing them improperly and saw a reporter doing so, on the evening news. As I can only reach so many people, how about making a video for this?

  • Steve Hawkins says:

    How come nobody ever uses–or even seems to possess–a nailbrush?
    It’s disgusting!
    I wouldn’t want to eat any food he prepared.

    It’s bad enough that so few brushes are actually designed to be able to get under your nails, but I’m amazed that even the supposed experts don’t have them and don’t seem to know they exist!
    Why do you think sugeons used to be called ‘scrubs’, and used to ‘scrub up’ before entering the theatre?


  • Angela Frazier says:

    Washing your hands is an elementary teaching. I was taught from infancy to wash my hands. Cleanliness is next to godliness. We need to get back to striving to be clean people.

  • Marie Kaplan says:

    Thank you, Dr. Collins! Keep Hand-washing, Keep Singing! We need it!

  • NICKOLAS says:

    If hands aren’t washed sufficiently then the towel will have some nice presents waiting for the next drying.

  • susan r. says:

    Thank you, Dr. Collins.
    I always wash my hands before eating– even in restaurants.
    I tell my kids to wash their hands, too: 2 out of 3 kids often decline now (they are >30 years old!).
    But the 19 year old will wash!

    Washing of hands is essential always: even during times without infections.
    Washing hands when you have someone at home who is a Confirmed Covid-19 Case (following guidelines) is inadequate….

    I’ll keep washing in the meantime!

  • Alan Binnie says:

    Is there currently any actual evidence that hand-washing has any impact at all on transmission of COVID-19, or is this just based on “common sense”? It seems like most evidence points to inhalation as the primary route of infection and that the requisite receptors and proteases are found in the mucosal cells in nasal passages and lungs. In this case washing hands without the use of a mask may be ineffective. Is there any evidence at all for infection via oral or optic routes or might hand-washing only be effective in stopping transmission by nose-picking?

  • sinofresh says:

    Thanks for sharing this blog about hand hygiene.

  • Alan Binnie says:

    I am still unable to find a single documented case of human transmission via hands. And many of the people who refuse to acknowledge the efficacy of masks claim they are behaving safely because they wash their hands and sanitize surfaces. I believe we could increase focus on methods proven to mitigate transfer (increased ventilation, masks, socializing only outdoors, quarantine, etc.) if we gave up on all of the apparently solely performative measures like hand washing, avoiding handshakes and hugs, and sanitizing of surfaces.

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