Half the trouble with germs is that we can’t see them. Imagine if coronavirus was bright purple and you could see everywhere it sprayed. Think how much simpler it would be for us to avoid it! Like the dye tablets that we were forced to chew on dental hygiene days in elementary school in the 70’s, we’d be able to see what is clean and what needs more scrubbing. If germs were more like coloured wet paint, we’d be less likely to touch our face, ever conscious of the risk of leaving purple fingerprints on our cheeks or in our hair. And we be more mindful to avoid leaving our prints on other things or people.
But they aren’t. They are invisible, not detectable by smell, sight, or touch. A bit of an ergo problem.
Another problem with invisible germs is that we become afraid to touch things, for fear of picking up bugs. Many tasks are easier when you can use your hands…..passing items between people, climbing stairs, or using a public restroom are less “ergonomic” when you attempt to be “hands off”. We could wear gloves, but….oh, the environment. How many sets of gloves should one person use in a day? I digress…
In the media coverage about the Coronavirus, we see videos of people wearing masks in public. My personal sense about masks is that most people use the same mask over and over, contaminating the inside of it with their hands when they take it off. Masks are not one of the precautions recommended by the World Health Organisation for coronavirus. They do recommend https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public:
- Frequent handwashing with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub
- Sneeze or cough into your flexed elbow (instead of your hands) or a tissue, and immediately discard the tissue
- Maintain a 1 meter distance from people who are coughing, sneezing, or have a fever
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Seek medical attention if you have fever, cough, and difficulty breathing
I grew up in the “cover your mouth when you sneeze” era, so I repress the instinct to clap my hands over my mouth. I prefer to use a tissue to catch my coughs and sneezes, but then follows the “immediate” struggle to find a waste bin in today’s paperless office. And I suppose kids can no longer sing the end of the song “head and shoulders, knees and toes” in pre-school. But otherwise these precautions seem pretty common-sense, even for cold and flu prevention.
If you work in close proximity to others, it’s worth reviewing these procedures, and posting graphic reminders in strategic places. (Downloadable posters are available at the WHO website above.)
In an effort to make infection control more “ergonomic”, make handwashing easier by providing hands-free access to soap, water, and hand dryers, and, where possible, use automatic doors. (Be aware that the last person to push the door open with an elbow may have sneezed into their elbow first !) Here are some stats from CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html) to share:
- handwashing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses
- handwashing can prevent about 20% of respiratory infections (e.g., colds)
- handwashing can help to avoid unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics for these issues, thereby reducing antibiotic resistance.
Effective handwashing involves 20 seconds of lathering, which is about the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. I don’t like birthdays so much, so I hunted for 20 seconds of something more compelling. (Thanks, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, for helping me avoid the flu!)
Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something
I think you’ll understand
When I’ll say that something
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand
I wanna hold your hand.
I’m inclined to rest my chin on my hand while I’m thinking (as I write this, for example) so I need to replace that habit with something else. Or maybe I should just put paint on my fingers. 😊
Take home messages:
- Coronavirus presents an opportunity to remind coworkers about precautions for reducing transmission of illnesses.
- Proper handwashing should be encouraged, after using restrooms and before eating.
- Challenge your coworkers to find other 20-second music clips to use as a lathering guide!