I’ve never really been hip or cutting-edge. In grade school in the ’80s, when the popular kids were tight-rolling their stone-washed jeans, I wore my favorite pair of pastel-striped culottes at least once a week. In middle school in the early ’90s, while everyone with fashion sense was wearing Chuck Taylors, I had a beloved comfy pair of green fake-suede Keds that I refused to part with. I had my own quirky style in high school, largely informed by thrift store clothes and vintage hats, but it definitely wasn’t anything you’d see in the pages of a teen magazine.
As far as pop culture, sure, I liked the things everyone liked: New Kids on the Block, 90210, Nirvana, Ally McBeal, Weezer. But I never felt like I discovered anything; I never liked anything before it was cool.
Now, as I read repeated briefings about coronavirus/COVID-19 and the best ways to stay healthy, though, all of that has changed. Yes, I might be wearing an olive green maxi-dress, cow-print slippers, and no makeup with a pimple on my chin – but I can proudly and honestly say that I was obsessed with hand-washing before hand-washing was cool!
I am a little bit phobic about germs – that’s an understatement, actually – and so in addition to the special-ordered hand sanitizer I carry around in my purse at all times, I wash my hands a lot, whether there’s a global health crisis or not.
Every morning at work, I have to “clock in” with a palm scan, which means placing my hand on the scanner where everyone else’s hand has been. So I sign in – and then go immediately to the kitchen and wash my hands while counting to 20. Then I turn the water off with a paper towel and take the paper towel with me to my office to open the three doors I encounter along the way. Do I look crazy? Probably. Do I give a shit? Nope.
I still remember one of the greatest/weirdest compliments I ever received, from a complete stranger in the Panera bathroom.
After dropping off the (undoubtedly germ-encrusted) buzzer that they use to alert customers that food is ready, I set my tray down – and went to the bathroom to wash my hands before eating. The woman standing behind me watched me and said, “Are you a surgeon?”
I laughed. “Not at all,” I said. “I’m an editor, and I do PR, and I barely passed high school bio. Why do you ask?”
“I’m a surgeon,” she said. “And you wash your hands like a surgeon.”
“THANK YOU!” I told her earnestly. “That really means a lot. I’m actually just really paranoid about germs, though!”
Anyone who has ever dined with me knows that I always excuse myself after ordering to wash my hands (who knows what germs lurk on menus?!) and that I try to avoid touching salt shakers or ketchup bottles with my bare hands if at all possible. I always wash or sanitize my hands after using any kind of public touch-screen technology, an ATM, or a gas pump. I wash my hands after opening the office fridge or using the microwave. I wash my hands after touching a shopping cart handle. I wash my hands after petting the dog, taking out the trash, or using the bathroom; I wash them both before and after preparing food. I wipe down my computer, my phone, and my steering wheel with special Clorox peroxide wipes on a regular basis, as well as the household door handles, the fridge, the counters, the remote controls, and every surface in both bathrooms.
Normally, this makes me feel slightly crazy. Right now, it makes me feel smug as hell.
Here are my tips:
•Use lots of soap.
•Wash for at least 20 seconds (I like to sing the ABCs).
•Pay attention to the webbing between your fingers and your thumbs.
•No need to make the water scalding hot (you can’t make it hot enough to kill most things without actually burning off your skin in the process; it’s more a matter of washing germs down the drain).
•Turn off the water with a paper towel.
•If you can’t wash your hands, Clorox hand sanitizer is your best bet.
COVID-19 is almost certainly already here. I am convinced that our Mardi Gras influx of visitors brought it with them and that we will soon have an outbreak right here in the Crescent City.
I’m slightly worried for my 82-year-old father and my immunocompromised friends.
But for everyone else, the answer is simple, and I may not be cool, but I have known this all along:
Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash. Your. Filthy. Hands.