Two years and a lifetime ago, when COVID first burst into our lives, handwashing became the order of the day as we scrubbed compulsively to make sure that whatever we touched didn’t slide the virus onto us.
Things calmed for a while when it appeared that the original COVID didn’t live forever on surfaces or skin, meaning you couldn’t catch it from a doorknob some unknown unfortunately infected person touched before you did.
That was reassuring until last week when a team of researchers at Japan’s Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine reported that Omicron the Omnipotent may live as long as 8 days on plastic (think grocery bags), six days longer than the original, and 21 hours – nearly twice as long as the original – on skin (think cadavers).
Does this explain its swiftly becoming dominant? Could be, so washing everything in sight is back in force. Hands are obvious targets, but what about the rest of your body like the uncovered elbow into which you sometimes sneeze?
How about six shower-time with rules that work now and still will in a year or two or ten when COVID is, we hope, a distant memory:
One: When? Showering in the morning can be as invigorating as your first cup of coffee. On the other hand, the National Heart Lung & Blood Institute says a hot shower or bath before bed warms various body parts and makes you sleepy. Also it washes away any leftover viruses hiding on open skin so you don’t have to boil your sheets every day. So this one’s bather’s choice.
Two: How long? The classic dermatologist rule here is relatively short, no more than 5 – 10 minutes. That’s long enough to clean without washing away so many skin cells that you’re dry and itchy after. (Note: For people with skin problems such as eczema, even that may be too long. Check with your doctor to be sure.)
Three: How hot? Go with Goldilocks’ porridge prescription: Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right. Both hot water and cold water enhance blood flow but in different places. The first expands vessels on the surface of the body warming skin and extremities. The second constricts these vessels, sending blood deeper down warm the core. Surprisingly, repeated studies show that either way your turn the faucet, the shower will relieve aching muscles and joints, but hot is makes skin itchier after.
Four: How hard? Gently, please, with your hands or a v.e.r.y. soft washcloth. Your skin is skin, not a food-encrusted stained stainless steel frying pan. (See #2)
Five: Where? Like the denizens of Orwell’s Animal Farm, all of whom were equal but some more equal than others, your body parts are equal but some ... well, you get the idea. Chad Prather, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Louisiana State University Prather, has been quoted with a catchy slogan he calls “the three P’s — pits, privates and piggies.” He’s right, says Yale School of Medicine dermatologist Mona Gohara, because these are the parts most likely to, um, “emit bad odors.” Yes, some might add your feet, but while you are standing in the shower they get a sort of dowsing without your even having to bend down to lift a finger. Dust them off with your towel later and that should do it. Or, if this is your particular problem area, a warm footbath several times a week should do the deal.
Six: Towel time. Don’t rub. Pat to avoid rubbing away more surface cells (see #2 again). And do it with the door closed so that while your skin’s still damp it captures moisture circulating in the air. Then slather on a protective lightweight cream that seals the surface more effectively than watery lotions and more comfortably than oily ointments.
And you’re done with the perfect shower.
Every surface clean, neat and (temporarily) virus-free.
Including that possibly problematic elbow.