CDC study finds most Americans getting better at washing their hands

Americans seem to be getting better at one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to fighting germs: hand washing.

A new CDC study finds U.S. adults are more likely to wash their hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their noses, now than they were in the fall of 2019.

Still, 25% of American adults are not consistently washing their hands in different settings.

Microbiologist Amber Schmidtke, who is tracking Georgia's coronavirus numbers for her public health newsletter and podcast, says upping your hand hygiene game is important in a pandemic.

"I think we could all stand to do better with handwashing, but it's helpful to know who might have the biggest challenges to overcome," Schmidtke says.

Researchers compared data from two internet surveys done in before the pandemic, in October of 2019, and four months into the pandemic, in June of 2020.

The survey respondents were asked how likely they were to remember to wash their hands in five recommended settings, such as before eating at home or in public, before using the restroom at home or in public, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose.

The researchers found the June 2020 survey respondents were more likely to remember to wash their hands after experiencing respiratory symptoms than the 2019 survey respondents.

Still, less than 75% of those survey reported consistently remembering to wash their hands in multiple settings.

Older adults, women, Blacks, and Hispanics were more likely to remember to wash their hands, while young adults, men, and Whites were less consistent about hand hygiene.

"Nobody puts these studies together to poke a stick in somebody's eye," Schmidtke says. "We're not trying to blame people, but I think it's important to identify the problem, so we can fix it."

Aside from the typical handwashing recommendations, such as cleaning your hands before eating and after using the bathroom, the CDC says recommends also washing your hands

before and after touching your eyes, nose, or mouth

after touching surfaces in public spaces

before and after touching your mask

Researchers say public health officials may want to target handwashing advice at specific groups, like men and young adults, who may not be washing their hands as consistently as recommended.

"I think it's important to remember we're not done washing our hands once COVID goes away," Schmidtke says.  "This is something that needs to becomes a lifelong habit.”