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This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Maybe you, like us, have been hearing a lot lately about “washing your hands frequently” because of the rapid spread of coronavirus. And maybe you, like us, thought, Sure thing!
But what no one is talking about is a simple reality: Washing your hands frequently? It bites!!! Time never moves so slowly as when you’re standing over the sink, flapping your soapy hands around, speed-singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself while a coworker takes a really long pee in a stall behind you. If this rising, maybe-pandemic has revealed anything about the human condition, it is that hand washing is a chore that everyone hates doing and also sucks at. Perhaps that's why so many people are desperately seeking a loophole to hand washing, devising complicated and ineffective recipes for homemade hand sanitizer.
In the interest of (somewhat) radical transparency and the power of public shame, a few anonymous people who may or may not work at VICE, and may or may not sit next to me, shared their faults and failures with this most basic task of human hygiene. To protect them from your rightful ire, we've referred to this group of germhounds as The Courtneys. (Sorry to all real Courtneys—unless they don't wash their hands.)
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Courtney W.: Who will cop to occasionally NOT washing her hands, when and why? If I feel like the bathroom is so gross it outweighs the benefits, I don't—like, if I have to touch weird shit in order to do it. I do keep, like, terrible hibiscus tangerine cucumber blossom hand sanitizer in my purse always, though.
Mrs. Courtney: Hmm, I think, unfortunately, I always wash my hands. I will stand in the filth of the bar bathroom to do it.
Courtney C.: I will sometimes just rinse if I'm in a rush, or if the bar bathroom soap seems weird. Or if I’m just kinda "checking it out," but don't necessarily complete any tasks, and am in a rush. And, again: All boy bathrooms are devoid of soap. It's just water in the dispenser.
Kourtney: I feel like most people don't really know how soap works. I actually hate washing my hands far more at home than in public; a public bathroom feels like an indisputably gross place, so washing my hands feels worth it?
Courtney Jr.: Sometimes I do only just rinse, especially if I’m, like, in a restaurant, there is a single bathroom, and I feel abstractly rushed, even if there is no one knocking on the door. But, I swear to God, I can trace every time I've been sick to one of these instances where I just did a quick splish-splash and didn’t use soap. I have read that water does 90 percent of the job, but am not sure if that’s, like, on water contact, 90 percent of germs? Gone??? But, also, 90 percent is probably not remotely enough, and I bet it’s only 90 percent if you splash around for 20 seconds.
Is everyone washing now for the full 20 seconds, and, if so, how are you measuring? I’ve just started counting to 20, because I refuse to sing to myself. Sing out loud, or nothing…
Courtney C.: I'm just kind of going for it… viibing [sic].
Kourtney: I will wash improperly—too quickly, not enough soap, etc.—in a bar bathroom… that's sort of the middle ground I've landed on. Like, I'll do it, but when I consider that I'm doing it badly, I have to wonder if it even counts. @CDC Is it worth half-assing washing my hands, or, at that point, should I just skip it???
Mrs. Courtney: Let's just get this out of the way: I've only done it improperly for my whole life.
Kourtney: I feel like properly drying is one of those things that none of us were taught in school. Pathogens love moisture!!!! Everytime I use a high-powered Dyson dryer, I think, This seems like a very expensive scam.
Mrs. Courtney: I keep thinking about how, like, paper towels are bad for the environment, though.
Kourtney: I have something for the environment thing—Shake and Fold. It's just a guy who is passionate about people learning to dry their hands properly without hurting the planet
Courtney Jr.: I LOVE Shake and Fold. I definitely was a two-three paper towel user—then Shake and Fold changed everything for me.
Mrs. Courtney: Wow, incredible, thank you. This reminds me that an ex of mine reuses paper towels. Like, leaves them a li'l crumpled on the counter to dry out, then uses them again. Literally, to me? Sick.
Kourtney: IT'S CALLED A REGULAR TOWEL, MATT.
Mrs. Courtney: That's what I've been saying.
Courtney W.: Another question on my mind: Why are we even washing our hands if we're not sanitizing our phones or computers with any regularity?
Courtney Jr.: I saw something yesterday that claimed germs only live on, like, a phone for [redacted] and same for a keyboard. But it said [redacted] on clothes? Unclear.
[Courney Jr. pasted untrustworthy source that undermined everything she said above.]
Mrs. Courtney: Why do we bother with anything… Rubbing my clean hands on my dirty jeans… "Fuck hygiene…”
Courtney W.: On that note, do you notice when other people don't wash their hands, and, to you, is it a permanent stain on their character? In the cases I don't, I just want to brandish my Winter Melon Chrysanthemum Rain hand sanitizer at people. Like, "I'm NOT a dirty freak."
Mrs. Courtney: I have, and will continue to, make people go back into the bathroom if they didn't wash their hands. If I hear a man not wash his hands, I make him go back and do it. I will literally say, "I didn't hear the sink. Go back and wash your hands." Yeah, but part of me, in public, I'm like, "baller move." [Ed. note: Please wash your hands.]
Kourtney: You're extremely allowed to tell people who might be touching you to wash their hands. Not washing your hands in public, in front of other people—especially people you KNOW and will see again—is, to me, a character flaw.
Courtney Jr.: Yes, agree. Even as I describe all these shortcuts that I take. I think the virus will slow down in the near term, while everyone is panicking, and then we will run out of panicking steam and it will resurge… potentially infecting us all as a result of our hand washing hubris.
Mrs. Courtney: No—I feel like this has radicalized my handwashing, and could turn me into a perv for hygiene for the rest of my life. Coronavirus is a pretty good motivator.
Kourtney: I feel like this might radicalize me, for sure. Still, it seems like in about six months, or however long it takes for the panic to subside, everyone will be back to washing their hands terribly. How do we similarly convince/shame people to wash their hands better when literal healthcare providers don't even do it right—remember that article?
Courtney Jr.: As much as people Don’t Change, I have changed my habits before, e.g., how I became a flosser because my ex-boyfriend was a flosser. Perhaps social pressure will work on me again: Everyone simply has to give me the stink-eye when I’m in the bathroom. Shame works.
Courtney C.: Yeah, I mean, I think I'll dry my hands more now. But not... always.
Courtney Jr.: The best thing we can do for each other now is be absolutely mean, rude, and ruthless to non-hand-washers. I feel like the real key is, like, respect for community and shaming of others. Americans are too individualistic! But, through community, effort, radical honesty, and shame, anything is possible. Hand washing for 20 seconds of uninterrupted eye contact with the other person in the bathroom.
Kourtney: We should all be raising the standard to be looking like you’re scrubbing up for surgery. The other day I was in the bathroom at the same time as someone else, and we both just stood there washing for so long, obviously longer than normal, and then she made a joke about it and we both laughed. Like, that’s what we need right now.