People have been highly encouraged to practice preventative hygiene like washing hands for 20 seconds, wear a mask if possible and stand six feet away from people. But this might be a case of people doing it but might not understand why they’re doing it. That’s where the friendly science major journalist comes in. Here is why the Center of Disease Control is strongly advising everyday people to practice these measures.
Why do we have to wash our hands for 20 seconds?
Let’s first talk soap because just rinsing your hands with water for 20 seconds won’t do much but get your hands wet. Soap is an example of a Jeckal and Hyde molecule, on one end, it’s greasy like oil on the other it’s more attractive to water (a very non-greasy molecule). This double-sidedness allows for soap to do what it does. In the molecular world, like is attracted to like. The greasy strand of the soap is attracted to the other greasy stuff like cooking fat or a fatty envelope of a virus. The other end of the soap causes the oily combination of things to go down the drain with the water from the faucet.
As for the 20 seconds, there have been several scientific studies done to determine the optimum time for handwashing. According to the CDC, the studies only looked at the overall number of microbes, not just the disease causing ones and the time needed changes on a lot of factors. The best range found in those studies was 15 to 30 seconds. 20 seconds is an easy middle ground that pairs great with an easy to remember musical timer of “Happy Birthday” twice.
Why should people wear masks?
The homemade cloth masks the CDC is recommending are actually not meant to keep you from getting sick, but from getting others sick. With more information coming to light everyday, an important piece of that being that many people who later develop COVID-19 were asymptomatic (no symptoms). This means that without being aware, you could be spreading the virus without knowing. The mask catches the saliva droplets we produce when we speak or cough and contains them. This protects others but if a sick individual coughed directly onto your mask, the cloth would absorb those droplets which you can accidentally breathe in. This is why keeping your distance is important.
Why do we need to stand six feet apart?
To forever make you paranoid, it’s because the droplets from a cough can travel that far. An assistant professor in chemical engineering at OSU, Yu Feng, is actually working with the Global Healthcare Industry to investigate the aerosol transmission of COVID-19. With the help of computer models, Feng’s team has been able to simulate different conditions from standing face to face to someone running behind another. In still air, the six feet apart rule is fine but even a slight breeze can cause the droplets to travel further and possibly infect you. So maybe just stay as far away from people as you can.
There is scientific reason behind these hygienic measures the CDC and the government are strongly encouraging you and everyone else to practice. Now you know why.