Hand washing is a normal part of daily life and has been for hundreds of years. That’s a fairly simple assumption, right? Yet, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the public’s mindset towards hand washing drastically.
It’s always been the CDC’s standpoint to wash your hands for 20 seconds. We all know this, but how much of the general population actually did that before early 2020, every time? Not many apparently. According to one survey, 57% only washed their hands for between 5 and 15 seconds.
This current generation has seen a change in hand washing unlike any other before it. Research conducted in 2009 during the H1N1 outbreak, showed 49% of respondents improved their hand washing routine. 2019 saw a spike to 79% making conscious efforts to better their hot water habits.
So, of course, we were all conscious before COVID of keeping ourselves healthy and safe, especially in times of widespread illness. Yet, it seems different now. That’s because it is.
It’s all out in the open
We’ve all been in a public restroom and seen someone leave without washing their hands. Much to this writer’s dismay, that was always a normal occurrence. Now, as a social unit, we’re so aware of other’s hygiene, as well as our own, that we’re redefining what the word even means. We notice now how others are conducting themselves. Basically, the public’s mindset has shifted to one of community responsibility and public health.
A report conducted by the CDC in October of 2020 discovered in “June 2020 [U.S. adults] were more likely to remember to wash their hands after experiencing respiratory symptoms [coughing, sneezing], before eating in a restaurant, and before eating at home than were October 2018 survey respondents. Despite improvements, <75% of survey respondents reported remembering to wash their hands in these situations in 2020.”
Well, maybe there’s still room for improvement, but these new societal expectations exist far beyond our own homes now. It’s hard to imagine them ever returning, tail between their legs and ready to just be a house pet again.
Revisiting an old friend
One may think that hand washing wouldn’t be something google-worthy. Yet, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth. The keyword search trends speak volumes for how the US public is looking at hand washing. ‘Hand washing’ as a search term rose above historically normal rates almost immediately following the February announcement of COVID.
The Occupational Health and Safety Organization released data from a Bradley Corporation Survey in April 2020 that may help us understand. The survey found that “Ninety percent [of respondents] say they are washing their hands more frequently or more thoroughly or longer and 78 percent are washing their hands six or more times a day. That’s compared to just 37 percent who washed up that often prior to the outbreak.”
Even early on in April, the public’s habits were changing. As the pandemic unpacked its bags and stuck around, people were already more aware. They were more cautious. Importantly, they were more willing to make sure they were doing it right.
Everyone’s getting involved
There have been seemingly endless campaigns around hand washing. They’ve come from all directions and been approached in unique ways like never before. For example, the Global Handwashing Partnership’s 2020-2024 Strategic Plan looks at hand washing as a public and country-specific progression. The WHO emphasizes hand washing as a global preventative measure to save millions of lives. Regardless of how the campaigns are approached and what they emphasize, the new widespread focus on hand washing is a welcome step towards more collective responsibility.
It’s not just coming from giant NGOs though, and that’s a good thing. Most companies, stores, schools, towns, and so on have taken their own approaches to hand washing campaigns. They’ve implemented the resources from the CDC, WHO, and the US government and adapted them to fit their context. It’s impressive actually, the massive steps being taken from the top all the way to the grassroots.
From the inside, out
So, we’ve googled to our heart’s content. We know the best methods for eliminating germs. We understand exactly when and how to wash our hands. The mindset and behavioral changes are there. The shift is palpable and public. Now it’s time for infrastructure and policy to get on board.
That’s where companies like Ozark River Manufacturing come in. Ensuring hand washing stations are just as effective as built-in plumbing fixtures is vital in this fight. Ozark River Manufacturing’s self-contained, portable, hot water, hand washing sinks have on-demand hot water, soap dispensers, paper towel holders, and the like. Their mission is to make sure that when a company, school, or healthcare facility needs hand washing capabilities, they’ve got them and they’re effective.
This seems to be the way forward, an integration of point-of-contact hand washing stations and therefore, peace of mind. Reevaluations of hand washing on all levels have fueled this movement towards ensuring proper access. Looking at such a common part of life again, within the context of social responsibility, shows a public progression that may not have otherwise surfaced.
As we all witness this shift in what hand washing means and how it affects our daily lives, one can only hope that such conscious, public accountability remains long after COVID is a distant memory.