Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on, Americans seem to be backsliding on their handwashing habits. According to the Healthy Handwashing Survey™ conducted in January, 57% of Americans are washing their hands six or more times a day. That’s quite a drop off from the 78% of Americans who were washing that frequently when the survey was conducted in April of 2020.
The lackadaisical approach is a stark contrast to the 81% of Americans who say they are concerned about contracting the coronavirus. Case in point, just 53% say they wash their hands after returning from a trip outside the home. Last April, 67% were washing after venturing out. In addition, just 38% are currently reminding family members to wash their hands compared to 54% last year.
“Handwashing has been shown to be a simple, safe and effective way to reduce the transmission of viruses and bacteria, including the virus that causes Covid-19,” said medical microbiologist Michael P. McCann, Ph.D., professor of biology, Saint Joseph’s University. “It is essential that everyone maintain high-levels of personal hygiene and that we not relax our guard now that vaccines are becoming available. Washing our hands, wearing masks and practicing social distancing are all easy things that we can and must do as we try to overcome this virus and return to a more normal way of life.”
The annual Healthy Handwashing Survey from Bradley Corp. queried 1,050 American adults about their handwashing habits, concerns about the coronavirus and flu, and their use of public restrooms. Participants were from around the country and were evenly split between men and women.
The survey found the length of time Americans are sudsing up has also taken a dive. In January, 67% said they were scrubbing their hands for 20 seconds or longer compared to 77% percent who were washing that long in April 2020. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends spending at least 20 seconds to lather up, scrub, and rinse.
The rinse-and-run phenomenon has also edged up – although it’s better than pre-pandemic times. This January, when respondents were asked if they have simply rinsed their hands with water instead of washing with soap, 48% admitted to doing so. In April, the number of rinsers dipped to a low of 27%. However, the current incidence of “rinsing only” is better than pre-Covid when 64% of Americans said they had taken that shortcut.
“We’re all experiencing pandemic fatigue but it’s important to maintain handwashing vigilance,” said Jon Dommisse, director of strategy and corporate development for Bradley Corp. “Taking at least 20 seconds to thoroughly clean your hands by washing them vigorously with soap and water – and drying them thoroughly – is time well spent.”
Overall, Americans correctly believe handwashing is a better germ-fighter than hand sanitizer. 61% understand their hands are less germy after washing with soap and water than after using hand sanitizer – a fact supported by the CDC. For times when soap and water are not available, the CDC says that using hand sanitizer is a good, second option for hand hygiene.
In terms of other pandemic precautions Americans are taking, there has been a significant shift since spring. Mask wearing is now the number one action in response to the coronavirus, followed by social distancing and then handwashing. In April 2020, wearing a face mask was the fifth most common action. In fact, the percent of Americans wearing a mask nearly tripled from April 2020 (24%) to January 2021 (69%).
As for greeting others, shaking hands seems to be a thing of the past. More than half of the population (53%) uses a friendly wave to say “hello.” Other popular gestures are a fist or elbow bump (29%) and air hugs (16%).