Twenty seconds: This is the minimum amount of time that should be used for hand-washing. But pre-COVID-19, I wouldn’t be able to count the amount of times I’ve seen other customers just flick their fingers (soap optional) in front of the sink and walk off. The signs that state, “Employees must wash hands before returning to work,” always perplex me. Everybody should wash their hands. While retailers have done well with posting six-foot distance signs and foot stickers at self-checkout points, there’s one sign that still seems to be missing. Take notes from leather shoemaker Richard Kwarteng and his brother Jude Osei before re-opening all stores to the public.
Featured on CNN Africa, the brothers purchased a sink, faucet, motherboard, solar panel, sensor and an alarm to create a solar-powered hand-washing basin. When someone stands in front of it, soapy water comes out and a sound beeps as a notification that the count has started. When the timer reaches 25 seconds, then more water pours out for a final rinse.
“The best view of solving this pandemic is washing your hands very well,” Kwarteng said, after noting how attractive his Ghanaian flag hand-washing barrel is.
He’s right. The same can be said for public restrooms in retail stores (and restaurants). So is it too much to ask for stores who already have sensors on their sinks to add a timer on it? Not only will this make customers more conscious of their own hand-washing, but it could also make them more likely to wait for the timer to end to avoid the (justifiable) public shaming of not washing their hands properly.
Will the public shaming and conscious hand-washing work? Yes and no. I recall two separate retail circumstances in which I involved myself in trying to make someone wash her hands. The first instance was in a Barnes & Noble bathroom, where a woman marched right to the door after using a stall. I remarked, “You’re not going to wash your hands?” She paused, turned to look at the sink and said, “I don’t want to.” These are the customers who make me frustrated by public restrooms that have removed paper towel dispensers and opt for hands-free dryers. Luckily, this bathroom was not one of those and I took note of every spot she touched when I existed.
The second was a co-worker at my after-school job at Walgreens during college. We went out to a night club. She saw there was no soap on the sink, shrugged and tried to walk off. I called her back to at least rinse her hands. She said, “Nah,” and walked away a second time. Not only was I embarrassed for her, but I’d also called attention to myself by being with her. I went to the nearest employee I could find and asked this person to restock soap in the bathroom. When my co-worker grabbed my hand to go back onto the dance floor, I snatched my hand away and went right back to the bathroom to rinse my hands again.
The next day at work, she made a snarky remark about me not finding a date that night. In turn, I mentioned the hand-washing incident. She was so furious about me reminding her of it that she grabbed her jacket and left work in the middle of her shift. I thought she was taking a cigarette break, but she never ever showed up again. One (white) manager asked me, “Why are you bullying white girls?” (Why her race was brought into the situation is still beyond me, considering I clearly liked her enough to go clubbing with her — until I found out she was gross.) I regret nothing years later. In my opinion, I saved the rest of the team from someone who probably wasn’t washing her hands while touching inventory, too. For the pharmacy section alone, this can endanger a lot of customers’ health. (I worked in photo.) And for someone to quit a job over a hand-washing comment speaks volumes.
Could the timer lead to too much peer pressure in retail stores? Will there be a segment of the population who will simply ignore it and decide to be the Barnes & Noble customer? Of course. But the bigger goal here is to make well-intentioned customers who simply don’t know any better become more conscious of good hygiene. Motion sensors in retail stores take too long to come on and automatically turn off when the person leaves; that 25-second alarm is the key point in public bathrooms that is too often missing. Improper hand-washing, or not doing so at all, can lead to a flood of illnesses such as salmonella, E. coli O157 and the norovirus that causes diarrhea, along with respiratory infections like adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease.
In addition to one of the easiest ways to avoid spreading a worldwide health outbreak that has led to 36 million Americans being unemployed, more than 302K dead worldwide out of more than 4.4 million infected, how hard is it to wash your hands? It is one thing to not have clean water and soap. It is another to voluntarily chose not to use what’s right in front of you. If inventors and scientists are not only encouraging increased hand-washing, and one has recently gone as far as adding a timer on his barrel sink invention, what excuse do retailers have to not tweak their current sinks? And if that add-on is too expensive to do right now, at least change the restroom signs.
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