We are all now aware of the proper techniques for hand washing, but do we understand exactly why we’re doing it in the first place? And why we’re not allowed to touch our faces anymore?

Let’s start with the basics. To begin, how does the COVID-19 virus infect people? COVID-19, like most respiratory viruses, enters via mucosal surfaces — in layman’s terms, through our mouths, noses, and eyes.

Direct person to person contact, when someone coughs or sneezes, is the main source of infection. Hence, we are now practicing social distancing guidelines of 6 feet. Additionally, the CDC has recently recommended face coverings to further reduce the transmission of the virus through air droplets.

The secondary mode of infection is via touch. Specifically, virus-contaminated-hand direct to your face contact, through the mouth, nose and eyes. Hence, the repeated advisements to a) wash your hands and b) not touch your face. But easier said than done, right?

According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene and the American Journal of Infection Control, people normally touch their face somewhere between 16 to 23 times an hour. Old habits die hard, we understand, but if your hands aren’t washed and you touch your face, the repercussions could be big.

Face coverings can be helpful in reducing contact with your mouth and nose, but they don’t prevent eye rubbing. And what about scratching your ears or forehead? While there is no evidence that the virus can jump surfaces, i.e. go from your forehead to your eyes, those hands of yours can move the virus around your face.

Bottom line, don’t touch your face. If you are out and can’t resist the urge, or have an itch, use hand sanitizer first or grab a tissue and dispose of immediately.

And, of course, continue to maintain vigilant hand hygiene to protect yourself from your own biggest threat — your hands!

Theresa Santoro