Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Handwashing during, before and after the pandemic

Published:Wednesday | November 4, 2020 | 12:08 AMSheryl Garriques-Lloyd/Contributor

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you.”

No, it’s not anyone’s birthday. I am simply washing my hands, and healthcare experts have said that singing the birthday song twice is a great timer (approximately 20 seconds) for proper handwashing.

As we continue to battle COVID-19, we keep hearing about the three main protocols: (1) wearing a mask, (2) handwashing/sanitising, and (3) social distancing. The signs are obvious on the floors or walls of almost every business place – ‘Stand Here’ – placed to facilitate maintenance of that six-foot distance. The advertisements, too, are quite frequent, reminding us to wear our masks. How much do you really know about handwashing and its importance in our everyday lives?

Handwashing was the first protocol recommended to protect oneself against the COVID-19 outbreak, even before the agreement on the importance of wearing masks. Taught in the healthcare field, medical handwashing is a proven and effective method of reducing and/or eliminating the spread of pathogens, thereby minimising or preventing the spread of many illnesses.


Handwashing has been tried, tested and proven as one of the most important measures to prevent or minimise infections. Therefore, sanitising does not replace handwashing, but is a measure that can assist with the cleansing of your hands, until you are able to wash them. What is important to note is that sanitising of the hands should follow a similar technique as handwashing and be done with an alcohol (at least 70 per cent)- based hand sanitiser.

Let us backtrack just a bit. Why is handwashing so important? Humans are social creatures and one main way to express ourselves is through touch. Pause for a minute and think about any given day, the numerous times we touch things and/or persons around us. Think about touching or handling our keys, doorknobs, computer mouses, rails on the stairs, car doors, steering wheels, our cell phones, and even each other in a conversation. Hands are excellent agents of transfer for pathogens and microbes, hence the need for proper handwashing. Don’t just take my word for it, conduct your own little experiment. Pick a day, pick an hour in that day, and count the number of times you touch anything or anyone, and count how many times you wash or sanitise your hands. Think about what you share and transfer with each touch.


Handwashing is now squarely in the limelight, but it has always been an important part of our everyday lives. How many times, as children, have we been asked, ‘Did you wash your hands?’. How many times, as adults, do we wonder if we had our hands? Here are a few reminders (there are many more) on when to wash our hands;

• As soon as we get home after a trip out;

• Before and after meal preparation and eating;

• Before and after using the bathroom;

• After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose;

• After shaking hands with someone.

Now that you’re agreeing that proper handwashing is a must do, let us talk about the technique of medical handwashing.The technique commences with wetting the hands. The water should be running, unless the pipe is sensor-operated. Next, the hands need to be generously soaped (there must be soap) and lathered. This where that 20 seconds or the singing of the Happy Birthday song comes in. Rub both hands together and move your fingertips around the hands back and front, between your fingers and thumbs, under your fingertips, and around your wrists. Don’t forget to wash under jewellery or remove them before washing your hands. Rinse your hands holding the tips down towards the sink without touching the pipe or the sink’s surface. The final step is to dry hands completely (germs love moist surfaces).

Now, if your pipe is sensor-operated it will stop itself; if not, the pipe needs to be turned off. Please use the hand towel, napkin or whatever is used to dry your hands to turn that pipe off; not your bare hands that you have just cleansed. Believe me, you can feel the clean when you’ve washed your hands this way. So you’re unable to wash your hands and you will sanitise until you can. Remember, it was said earlier that sanitising of the hands should follow a similar technique as handwashing. Here goes – apply a generous amount of hand sanitiser. Rub hands together, sanitising both the back and the front, between fingers and thumbs, and around the wrists.

I acknowledge that there are challenges that may affect our ability to practise proper handwashing technique. I encourage us to remember that the benefits of handwashing are undisputed. I encourage all of us, especially during this pandemic, to commit to washing our hands frequently and correctly.

Most importantly, let us commit to proper handwashing skills throughout our lifetime.

Sheryl Garriques-Lloyd is a registered nurse and lecturer @The UWI School of Nursing, Mona. Send feedback to yourhealth@gleanerjm.com; sheryl.garriqueslloyd@uwimona.edu.jm.