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Your Healthy Family: Prevent coronavirus with proper handwashing

Posted at 12:10 PM, Mar 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-09 10:30:11-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — As cases of coronavirus continue to grow across the country – with cases now in Colorado – COVID-19 continues to be a major story. Dr. Michelle Barron, an infectious disease expert with UCHealth who spoke with me earlier this week before cases were confirmed in Colorado, correctly predicted that it was only a matter of time before we started seeing people infected with the virus.

Dr. Barron also says the roadmap for healthcare workers to manage the outbreak in Colorado is clear and in place. “At this point we are doing a strategy called containment. We are trying to find it and we're trying to isolate everybody so we can contain it.”

Dr. Barron also laid out what will come next. “At some point (containment) won't be something that's feasible, and then we use a strategy called mitigation, just like we do during flu and cold season: Stay home, wash your hands, provide supportive care for those that need treatment, and the rest - don't worry so much about it.”

While COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus, Dr. Barron emphasizes the best ways to protect yourself are tried and true. “Hands, hands, hands - that's probably the most important factor in terms of transmission of so many infections. If we always had clean hands, the number of illnesses would definitely go down.”

We hear about the importance of washing our hands so much, it can be easy to not take it to heart, says Dr. Barron. “I think people are sick of me saying this but (washing your hands) truly is the simplest, most effective way of keeping yourself healthy whether it's from a coronavirus or from a foodborne illness - from anything.”

As simple as washing your hands sounds, it’s also important that you do it right, says Dr. Barron. “Wash your hands really well with soap and water for 20 seconds, and if you can do 30 that's even better. You can sing Happy Birthday to me, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - there are all sorts of great variations. For alcohol-based hand sanitizers, get an amount about the size of a quarter, make sure to get all your surfaces and let it dry.”

Carrie Kirk, MSN, RN at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central is a nurse educator who says making sure to be thorough when handwashing is the biggest challenge. “Make sure that you actually use hand soap for 20 to 30 seconds - not 5 seconds, not 10 seconds - it has to be 20 to 30 seconds. That can seem like a very long time, trust me I know. We wash our hands every time before we touch a patient, after we touch the patient and it adds up, but it's the quality (of handwashing) that matters.”

As for jewelry such as rings, Carrie says make sure to include them in your handwashing routine. “It’s not just if you work in healthcare, even when you're at home you're not going to be taking all of your jewelry off, so you need to make sure that you can actually wash underneath it efficiently. You can slide your ring down your finger, making sure that you're soaping the jewelry on your finger. It’s just being realistic and making sure that you're getting all of your skin (on your hands and fingers) and anything that was on your hand or ring clean.”

Getting underneath the nails is also another spot where germs, bacteria and viruses live. As you proceed with your day, your hands will not stay clean, which is why it’s also important to think about how often you touch your face with your hands, says Dr. Barron. “How often do we touch our face? Frequently and you likely don't even think about it. Your eye itches and you don't think, ‘I know my eye itches; I must itch it.’ You just do it. Same thing with your nose and your mouth. We live with our devices so we're always touching them and then we grab a sandwich or whatever else that we put in our mouths. Be more conscious of those things and try to be more consistent with cleaning your hands and cleaning surfaces around us and make sure that the areas you work in, especially in office spaces where there's lots of cubicles and there is probably food, and all sorts of areas where everybody's got their hands and they are high touch surfaces, clean those more frequently with it appropriate disinfectant.”