Coronavirus, and its persistence, has reminded me of a blog post I wrote in 2018. I was frustrated and angry. A magazine that reaches hundreds of thousands of households had arrived in the mail with the advice to wash your hands with soap and water at least five times per day to prevent the spread of infections.
“Five times per day?” I read aloud. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
My husband, in the midst of a winter cold, harrumphed, “Fifty’s more like it!”
Tell a mom with two children under the age of four who has wiped two noses and two bums before she has sipped her first-morning coffee that she should wash her hands five times per day. “That’s ridiculous!” she’ll say. “We’d all be sick all the time!”
Wash your hands at least five times per day? Really? Tell that to the husband of a woman who is immunocompromised. “How irresponsible!” he’ll say. “If I did that, I could kill her!”
Let me suggest then how you can keep your family safe, your friends and workmates safe, and yourself safe.
If you’re preparing food, wash your hands.
About to eat? Wash your hands.
Blown your nose? Wash your hands.
Wiped your bum? Wash your hands.
Wiped someone else’s nose or bum? Wash your hands.
And always wash your hands before you rub your eyes, pick your nose, or bite your fingernails.
For a single, healthy individual who eats three squares a day and who toilets five times per day, that’s eleven handwashings. If we give this person a winter cold, which necessitates nose-blowing every half-hour, then add thirty handwashings. That brings us to a low estimate of eleven handwashings or six more than the recommended “at least five,” and a high of forty-one, or just nine handwashings shy of my ailing husband’s estimate. Which just goes to show that any number as a recommendation for hand-washing frequency is meaningless.
Let the situation be your guide. So at the very least…wash your hands BEFORE preparing and eating food; wash your hands AFTER wiping any nose or bum, and wash your hands BEFORE touching anyone’s face.*
And if you still want to talk numbers, then count out twenty seconds the next time you wash your hands. That’s about how long it should take you to hum the Happy Birthday song from beginning to end, TWICE.
* For more indications, see When & How to Wash Your Hands.
Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humour despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who would like to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend.
And btw, Bonnie thinks everyday should be Global Handwashing Day.