COVID-19: Seniors, Wash Your Hands

What’s the best way to avoid contracting coronavirus (COVID-19)? It’s not purchasing a surgical mask. No, not even an N95.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the U.S. Surgeon General, the best way to keep yourself safe and healthy is by continuing to do something you already (hopefully) do multiple times a day. Seniors can limit their risk of exposure by regularly and properly washing their hands.

Proper Technique

You’ve probably been washing your hands wrong for years. At the very least, you’ve likely used a less-than-effective technique. WHO and CDC offer these guidelines to ensure that you’re fully eliminating germs and mitigating your risk of exposure:


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  1. Lather your entire hand including the backs of your hand, your palms, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  2. Wash for at least 20 seconds. To put this in perspective, the CDC says you should wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
  3. While soap and water is preferred, sanitizing solutions with at least 60% alcohol content are generally an acceptable alternative to handwashing. Applying sanitizer effectively should also take around 20 seconds.

When to Wash

We’re not just washing our hands the wrong way, many of us aren’t washing nearly enough. While seniors can catch COVID-19 by breathing in airborne particles, they’re far more likely to encounter the disease on an object or surface. If their unwashed hands make contact with their eyes, nose, or mouth, they could easily become infected. Seniors are advised to wash their hands regularly and to pay particular attention to activities that might spread germs, including:

  • Preparing, eating, and serving food.
  • Using the bathroom.
  • Handling garbage, animals, or animal waste.
  • Treating a wound.
  • Caring for someone who is sick.
  • Interacting with high-touch objects and surfaces.
  • Blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

CDC studies have found that diligent handwashing alone can prevent 1 in 5 respiratory infections. That’s true during flu season and it’s true right now.

Additional Health and Safety Tips

In addition to regular handwashing, CDC and WHO encourage seniors to take many of the same precautions they would take to avoid contracting the flu or the common cold. These include exercising safe social distancing (particularly around symptomatic individuals), practicing good respiratory hygiene (covering your mouth when coughing, disposing of tissues, etc.), and regularly disinfecting all high-touch surfaces.

Check out our summary of the safety guidelines published by global health experts.