When Ann Dzwonchyk, Wellness Educator with Evangelical Community Health and Wellness, demonstrates hand hygiene to young kids, she asks how many sides their hands have.

“Remember, your hands have two sides,” she tells them. “You’ve got to get both sides.”

Handwashing is recommended by all healthcare providers as one of the best ways to keep germs like COVID-19 and other viruses from making us ill. Dzwonchyk teaches kids to be aware of the five times hand washing is needed:

- before eating or preparing food, and that includes handling utensils or setting the table

- when returning home after playing outside or visiting another place

- after touching or hugging a pet

- after using the bathroom

- after coughing or sneezing into your hand. (Of course, it’s better to use your elbow, but hands are better than releasing germs into the air.)

“Proper handwashing is typically done through a vigorous, 20-second scrub with warm water and soap,” said Matthew Kraynak, D.O., primary care physician at Geisinger Mount Carmel. “A lot of people just put their hands underneath the faucet, but that’s not good enough. You actually have to rub and scrub. You also must scrub under fingernails.”

We’ve all heard of the need to wash for 20 seconds, the time it takes to sing the ABC or Happy Birthday songs. That number came about after studies measured how much virus remains after a given time of handwashing.

“Soap and water for 20 seconds will probably kill 99 percent of the germs,” Kraynack said. Washing for less time might allow more germs to remain.

Dzwonchyk reminds kids not to touch their faces with dirty hands.

“The T-zone. Eyes, ears, up your nose. That’s where fingers don’t belong,” she said.

Steven Barrows, MD, UPMC Family Medicine at Muncy, said it might help for parents to find a trigger to remind kids to wash their hands. Using the restroom is an obvious trigger, as is preparing to eat. When handwashing becomes automatic with these actions, it will reduce the odds of kids spreading germs from their hands to their faces.

Kaylyn Heimbach, 9, of Winfield, has already found a pleasant trigger to help her enjoy handwashing: “I like the smell of the soap,” she said.

As important as handwashing is, we don’t want to alarm young kids, Dzwonchyk said. Germs are nothing new. They’re all around us, and some are beneficial.

“They’ve been around a long time,” Dzwonchyk said. “We tell kids they’ve been around before dinosaurs. That 20 seconds of handwashing is what’s going to keep us safe.”

Hand sanitizer helps, but if hands are visibly dirty, you need a good soapy scrub.

“Hand sanitizer is fabulous, but nothing beats soap and water,” Dzwonchyk said.

Along with good hand hygiene, kids need to maintain a healthy balance of regular exercise, healthy eating and adequate sleep so their immune system will stay strong.

“Eat the rainbow,” Barrows said, referring to a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits.

Regular wellness checkups help ward off health issues before they become problems, Barrows said. Acknowledging that some people might still be reluctant to visit their doctor’s office, he pointed out the screening processes—temperature checks, social distancing, sanitizing—that offices use to ensure patients are safe.

“Personally, I don’t have any apprehension with going to see my own doctor,” he said, “or with seeing patients in the office.”

Katherine Kudrick, PA-C, Family Medicine of Evangelical-Lewisburg, noted that people should not put off seeing their doctors for fear of the pandemic because “everything people can touch” is cleaned frequently at Evangelical offices.

“We want to give our patients the best chance to protect their health,” she said. “Don’t neglect other health conditions because of the pandemic”

By now, even children know masks are essential and need to be worn correctly to help decrease the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s not about instilling fear,” Dzwonchyk said. “It’s being accountable and courteous to other people. It’s realizing what they do can affect you, and what you do can affect them.”

Parents and school districts must work together to keep kids healthy and able to learn, she said, and that includes supporting each other’s educational choices.

“Good for you if your kid went to school. Good for you if your kid went to cyber school,” she said. “You’re doing what’s right for your family. That’s the most important thing.”

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