Are you washing your hands the right way?

Published: Mar. 9, 2020 at 6:59 PM EDT
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Chances are you've been hearing this a lot lately -- wash your hands thoroughly and often. They are basic hygiene tips that could be your best defense against the coronavirus. But even though we're taught to do that as children, experts say most of us are probably skimping on safety.

"A lot of people are really nervous. Most people just have the flu," said David Weiss, an ER nurse at the University of Vermont Medical. He says whether it's the flu or coronavirus, protecting yourself starts with washing your hands. "This virus is spread through respiratory droplets, which we often have on our hands."

Most of you at home are probably saying, 'Yeah, we wash our hands.' But do you really do it correctly? Probably not.

It starts with rinsing your hands -- the water temperature doesn't matter. Then, get your soap -- antibacterial or regular -- it doesn't matter either. Then, start lathering. This is where you're creating the friction that removes the dirt or germs from your skin. And start your timer. You need to spend 20 seconds on this step. That might seem like a long time, and if you're me, this is where you're probably where you're cutting the corners.

But it does matter. The CDC says 15 to 30 seconds is actually more effective for removing the germs from your hands than shorter amounts of time. So, however you choose to measure that 20 seconds -- that's up to you. When your 20 seconds is done, go ahead and rinse off again and dry off with a clean paper towel or an air dryer. And once you've done this, congratulations, you've just done one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself and others safe from coronavirus.

"It really is just basic hygiene at this point to prevent the spread of the illness," Weiss said.

He says hand sanitizer is not better, but it's useful for when you don't have soap and water. The CDC says it needs to have at least 60 percent alcohol to work. And you need to rub it in until it's dry. "The viruses and bacteria that it kills are actually killed during the drying phase," Weiss said.

Also, consider wiping down your phone. Studies vary, but it could be carrying up to 25,000 bacteria per square inch, making it 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat, according to scientists at the University of Arizona.

Weiss says it's good to be cautious, but not panic.

"The truth of the matter is, if you're a healthy individual and you wash your hands and you walk away from someone who is coughing and sneezing, you're probably going to be just fine," he said.

The other big piece of advice -- don't touch your face. It's harder than you might think, but good news is, if you're washing your hands often, it puts you at less of a risk of transferring germs when you do.

WCAX asked Weiss how the UVM Medical Center is handling the influx of patients.

"In the ER, we've set up a primary and a secondary triage so if you are exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus, we'll divert you one way, to a more isolated area, as opposed to the waiting room with the general public," said Weiss.