Frequent handwashing during pandemic is possible but difficult to sustain, study suggests

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Posted at 7:53 PM, Apr 26, 2021

Wash your hands. It’s the third precaution mentioned alongside wearing a mask and staying six feet apart for the last year as the coronavirus pandemic has infected tens of millions of Americans.

In June 2020, a CDC study found Americans were washing up with soap and water twice as often as they did in 2019.

But it seems what had started as a simple reminder for basic hygiene may have dropped back down to an afterthought, or not at all. A study released this week backs up other data suggesting Americans may be getting complacent about hand washing.

At the University of Chicago Medical Center, they installed an automated hand hygiene monitoring system in 2015 to track the use of the dispensers as compared to entries and exits from inpatient rooms.

Before the pandemic, researchers say the hospital averaged about 54% compliance of using the dispensers to sanitize. The institutional goal, according to researchers, is about 60% compliance.

Compliance reached 100% compliance on March 28, 2020, about two weeks after the WHO declared the coronavirus to be a global pandemic. The hospital had 84.4% compliance for the month of April 2020.

However, by August 2020, compliance was down to around 55%.

The researchers say the data suggests “the compliance surge was driven by fear and increased awareness of the importance of hand hygiene associated with the start of the pandemic, as well as fewer room entries and exits resulting from fewer patient visitors, remote rounding by clinicians, and nurse batching of tasks while in patient rooms.”

They say high compliance for hand sanitizing and washing is possible, but difficult to sustain.

The study was published Monday in JAMA.

What researchers found at one hospital appears to mirror what other study has found.

A national survey on handwashing found 78% of respondents were washing their hands 6 to 15 times a day in April 2020. That dropped to just 57% of respondents in January 2021.