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Hand-Washing And Other Tips To Limit Your Coronavirus Risk


Many Americans are probably doing a lot more of this these days.


SIMON: Scrub, scrub, washing our hands. That's what health officials say is one fundamental way to help keep viruses from spreading in this new era of COVID-19. Now, they're not talking about a quick sprinkle on the fingers at the bathroom sink, either. We're joined now by NPR's health correspondent Allison Aubrey.



SIMON: ...Thanks for being with us.

AUBREY: Oh, good to be here.

SIMON: We exchanged elbow bumps...

AUBREY: We did. We did, indeed.

SIMON: ...When we came - when you came into the studio. How should we wash our hands?

AUBREY: OK, I am going to sound like a preschool teacher here. The CDC says you want to lather up with soap. Then you want to lather the back of your hands, between your fingers, under your nails and then scrub.

SIMON: For how long?

AUBREY: Twenty seconds. And the CDC points out this is about how long it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. But of course, if you find that annoying, you could expand the hand-washing playlist. Here's one suggestion...


PINKFONG: (Singing) Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Baby shark. Mommy shark...

SIMON: Oh, do we need to say this? "Baby Shark," yeah.

AUBREY: Yeah, Sorry. Sorry. Really, I know. So Geoff Brumfiel and I, our colleague, we tested this. We got midway through Daddy shark. That's a long 20 seconds.

SIMON: Thankfully it was 20 seconds. Do you know what - you know what song I do?

AUBREY: Oh, please tell me.

SIMON: (Singing) Da, da, da, da, da, da, da...


SIMON: (Singing) ...Da, da, da, da.

AUBREY: Of course we know that.

SIMON: You know what that is?

AUBREY: Of course, that's...

SIMON: The music of BJ Leiderman...

AUBREY: Of course...

SIMON: ...Who writes our theme music.

AUBREY: That's the John Williams of Public Radio.


SIMON: One of our producers kept track of this. She watched her hands...


SIMON: ...And reports that within 15 minutes, she'd touched three common services, including elevator buttons and a door handle.


SIMON: Then she touched her own phone.


SIMON: Then she touched her eyes twice and her mouth once.


SIMON: She needed an intervention. Allison, look. We don't want to frighten anybody.

AUBREY: For sure.

SIMON: But how often should we wash our hands?

AUBREY: Well, in the case of this unnamed producer, I'd say, you know, after she touched the door handle, maybe after she touched the elevator button. And here's why - when a sick person coughs or sneezes, it sends these little droplets into the air carrying the virus. And when those land on a surface - say, that elevator button - then you, Scott Simon, touch that contaminated surface and go on to touching your eyes, nose or mouth, well, guess what? Yep, you can be infected.

The CDC points to studies that have found that hand-washing can prevent 1 in 5 respiratory infections such as colds and flus and the same kind of thing this new coronavirus is. So just this year, it's estimated that there have been about 30 million flu cases in the U.S. So if everyone was more diligent about hand-washing, 6 million infections could be prevented.

SIMON: What kind of good does - or not - do hand sanitizers accomplish? I mean, speaking as the father of two, sometimes I think that's enough.

AUBREY: Sure. Well, soap and water is definitely preferred. It's considered the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. But sanitizer is effective. Just make sure it's at least 60% alcohol. Not all hand sanitizers are created equal.

SIMON: What can people do to protect themselves from others who might be carrying something?

AUBREY: You know, for starters, you can keep your distance from people. Those droplets that can infect people travel about arm's length or up to about six feet. You can set a good example by coughing into your elbow. Hopefully, others will follow you. And don't shake hands so much. You can bow. You can nod. You can do that...

SIMON: I shake hands all the time.

AUBREY: You don't have to, though. You can do the little elbow bump we just did. So I think you can just think about these low-touch salutations. They might be a good option.

SIMON: NPR's Allison Aubrey, thanks so much for being with us.

AUBREY: Thank you, Scott. Good to be here.


PINKFONG: (Singing) Daddy shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. Daddy shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.