OPINION: I have two hands

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among others — have been repeating the message that the most effective way of preventing transmission is frequent handwashing with soap. 

Remember the nursery song that goes: “I have two hands, the left and the right, hold them up high, so clean and bright. Clap them softly: one, two, three. Clean little hands are good to see.”

The song has a less-known second stanza that talks (or sings) about a “bright face, white teeth, clean clothes,” in other words, a hygiene song, that preschools, kindergartens, maybe even elementary grades should revive as an action song to talk about how clean hands can be life-saving against the COVID-19 virus.

A slight detour: Randy John Vinluan of USAID’s Environment Office sent me a useful clipping clarifying some of the confusion with names around the coronavirus. COVID-19, it turns out, is short for “coronavirus disease 2019” while the virus’ name is SARS-CoV-2, but many journalists are now using “COVID-19 virus.”

Back to my main topic, health authorities — the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among others — have been repeating the message that the most effective way of preventing transmission is frequent handwashing with soap. This prevents you from being infected not only by respiratory viruses like this COVID-19 virus but also microorganisms that cause diarrhea.

Sounds simple enough to do.

But think of how you wash your hands, and how often, in relation to the more complete advice from the WHO and the CDC.

First, the CDC says you should wash “especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.” (Bathroom is the American term for toilet.)

Second, you should wash for at least 20 seconds, which is almost always explained as singing “happy birthday” twice.

The things I have to do sometimes for this column. I thought of alternatives to happy birthday and tried “UP Naming Mahal.” Too long. Then I discovered that 20 seconds fits right in for “I have two hands.” Try it, and never mind if you want to sing it twice because 20 seconds is the minimum. Which means you could sing “UP Naming Mahal,” or “Lupang Hinirang.” Better to hum the tunes or you might put your hands to your chest while doing the national anthem, or hold your hands up high, the left and the right.

Third, you have to scrub. Again from the CDC: “wetting hands with clean running water; lathering soap on hands, including under nails, between fingers and the backs of hands.”

You’ve probably realized you’re not properly washing, and not often enough, and, at least for now, most people can’t be blamed for that because, even with the “I have two hands” song used over and over again (check YouTube), it emphasizes the aesthetics, hands so clean and bright and good to see.

Let’s face it too, with so many homes and offices suffering from water shortages, we are really a nation that learned to wash our hands with thrift, like priests do during Mass. (That’s symbolic so it’s all right they continue doing that. Can you imagine priests starting to follow the CDC guidelines, scrubbing away and humming “I have two hands” during Mass?)

We need to get rid of old habits around handwashing, and while we’re at it, we may as well take notice of the guidelines around using masks. First, the masks are useful only for both patients and the hospital personnel.

Now, if you insist on using masks, do be aware that they can actually increase your risks for infections, ironically, because of your clean and bright hands.

A case example: On your way to the LRT, your hands have been all over, hand railings, your bag, money, books (wow, reviewing in the LRT), and even your own clothes, which heaven knows, have also been exposed to all kinds of potential pathogens.

But you don’t think of all that exposure. You’re feeling safe, even smart-looking with your mask on, and you want to look even better so you keep adjusting your mask, touching your face, your eyes, your nose, your mouth.

If the viruses could talk, they’d all be thanking you because you just transported them, business class, into your body!

We have two hands, and we better train them well to protect us from, rather than, transmitting diseases.

I’m serious too about emphasizing handwashing in schools: There are studies in the States showing how school absences are reduced when kids wash their hands more frequently, especially when flu is going around.

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