More Americans are washing their hands amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but 1 in 4 don't lather up when they need to, such as after blowing their nose, according to a new report.
The report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), examined Americans' hand washing behaviors before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors analyzed the results of two nationally-representative surveys, with the first administered in October 2019, and the second in June 2020.
The surveys asked participants about situations where they usually remember to wash their hands, such as after using the bathroom at home; after using the bathroom in public; after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose; before eating at home; before eating at a restaurant and before preparing food at home.
The report found that, thankfully, the vast majority of people remember to wash their hands after using the bathroom. In both 2019 and 2020, more than 85% of participants said they remembered to wash their hands after using the bathroom at home, and 95% said they remembered to wash their hands after using a public restroom. Similarly, in both years, about 86% of participants said they remembered to wash their hands before preparing food.
However, things went downhill from there.
In 2019, about 63% said they washed hands before eating at home, 55% said they washed their hands before eating at a restaurant and 53% said they washed their hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose. During the pandemic, more people reported washing their hands in these situations, but the numbers were still not ideal — 74% said they remembered to wash their hands before eating at home, 70% said they remembered to wash their hands before eating at a restaurant and 71% said they remembered to wash their hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose.
And in general, some demographic groups were less likely to remember to wash their hands, including men, young adults and white people.
For example, in 2020, 65% of men reported washing their hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose; compared with 76% of women. And 69% of white adults said they washed their hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose, compared with 83% of Black adults and 72% of Hispanic adults.
"These findings underscore the importance of promoting frequent hand-washing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially after coughing, sneezing and blowing one's nose," the authors wrote. "Men, young adults, and white adults continue to be less likely to remember to wash their hands, despite improvements made from 2019 to 2020."
The authors conclude that more work is needed to identify ways to get people to wash their hands, not only to prevent COVID-19, but also to reduce transmission of other diseases that spread via coughs, sneezes or poop.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.