October 12, 2020

How America is washing its hands (or isn't), in 5 charts

Daily Briefing

    CDC notes that hand hygiene is key to preventing Covid-19's spread, and the agency in a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that Americans this year are washing their hands more often than they were in 2019. However, rates of hand-washing vary among certain groups.

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    Americans are washing their hands more

    For the report, researchers looked at data from an online market research panel that recruited participants randomly through mail via probability and address-based sampling. Data collected from October 2019 accounted for 3,624 people, while data collected from June of this year accounted for 4,053 people.

    Participants from each year were asked, "In which of these situations/settings are you most likely to remember to wash your hands?":

    • After using the bathroom at home;
    • After using a public restroom;
    • After sneezing, coughing, or blowing one's nose.
    • Before eating at home;
    • Before eating at a restaurant; and
    • Before preparing food at home.

    The researchers found that, overall, about 95% of respondents from each year said they remembered to wash their hands after using a public restroom, about 86% from each year said they remembered to wash their hands before preparing food. In addition, about 86% of respondents from 2019 and about 90% from 2020 said they remembered to wash their hands after using the bathroom at home.

    There was a significant difference, however, between the percentages of respondents from 2019 and 2020 who said they remembered to wash their hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose. In 2019, about 53% of respondents said they remembered to wash their hands in such instances. That percentage swelled to about 71% of respondents in 2020.

    The researchers also found notable differences between the percentages of respondents from 2019 and 2020 who reported that they remembered to wash their hands before eating at home and before eating at a restaurant.

    According to the researchers, the data suggests that respondents from June 2020 were 2.3 times more likely to report remembering to wash their hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their noses than they respondents from October 2019. Respondents from June 2020 also were twice as likely to say they remembered to wash their hands before eating at a restaurant and 1.7 times more likely to say they remembered to wash their hands before eating at home when compared with respondents from October 2019.

    Hand-washing rates vary by group

    But the researchers also found that reported rates of remembering to wash one's hands varied among demographics.

    For instance, male respondents in 2019 and 2020 were less likely to report remembering to wash their hands across all of the proposed situations than female respondents. This was especially the case after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their noses. For instance, among the June 2020 respondents, 65.4% of men reported remembering to wash their hands in that situation, compared with 76.6% of women.

    The researchers also identified variations between different age groups. For example, they found that young adults ages 18-24 were less likely to report remembering to wash their hands before eating in a restaurant, before preparing food, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their noses when compared with older adults.

    Respondents' health and relationship statuses also were associated with differences in reported rates of remembering to wash their hands, the researchers found.

    Across all scenarios among respondents from 2019 and from 2020, the researchers found that single respondents were less likely to wash their hands than those who were married or living with a partner.

    The surveys each year also asked respondents, "In general, would you say your health is excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?" Across all scenarios among respondents from each year, those who reported their health status as poor were least likely to wash their hands, the researchers found.

    Discussion

    According to the researchers, the data "suggest that the percentage of U.S. adults who reported remembering to wash their hands in certain circumstances has increased" amid America's coronavirus epidemic. That's important, the researchers explained, because hand-washing can help to prevent the novel coronavirus's spread via respiratory and oral-fecal routes.

    However, the researchers noted that rates of reported hand-washing could be higher in certain situations, and they said "[e]fforts are needed to communicate the importance of hand-washing." The researchers recommended previously-used strategies to promote hand-washing, including "active and passive hygiene education, provision of hand-washing supplies, environmental cues, and health communication" (Haston et al., Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 10/9; Walker, MedPage Today, 10/8).

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