A sign on a shelf at a QFC grocery store in Kirkland, Washington. Picture: AP Photo/Ted S Warren
A sign on a shelf at a QFC grocery store in Kirkland, Washington. Picture: AP Photo/Ted S Warren

Americans heed warning to wash hands often to control coronavirus, poll finds

By Gabriella Borter and Chris Kahn Time of article published Mar 4, 2020

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Americans appear to be heeding the warning of health experts to wash their hands more frequently and use disinfectant wipes to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released on Wednesday.

As Covid-19 spreads across the country, nearly half of all Americans say they have started more rigorously cleaning themselves and surfaces they touch to avoid contracting the virus, according to the March 2-3 national poll.

It found that some 42% of respondents were washing their hands and using disinfectant more than usual, and 18% said they have avoided physical contact with others more often.

The rise in caution was recorded days after the virus caused its first U.S. fatality in Washington state and began spreading from person to person on the West Coast.

Some 28% of Americans believe the coronavirus poses an "imminent threat" in the country, according to the survey, a slight increase from the 22% who said they considered the seasonal flu to have the same level of threat.

As few as 9% of the respondents said the coronavirus has had an impact on their work or business, including declining sales, postponed conferences or meetings and problems with supply chains.

Another 84% said it has had no impact, and 7% said they do not know.

The disease, which first surfaced in China in December, has now infected more than 100 people in the United States and killed at least nine. Health experts say it spreads primarily through tiny droplets coughed or sneezed from an infected person and then inhaled by another. Vigilant hygiene can prevent transmission, they say.

On its website, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists frequent handwashing for at least 20 seconds and disinfection of surfaces with an alcohol-based cleaner as methods of prevention. Scientists have yet to develop a vaccine to prevent the disease.

Coronavirus can survive on surfaces, such as handrails and door knobs, for "a very long period of time" and be picked up by hand that way, though the virus is "very susceptible" to cleaning products, Dr. Christopher Braden, deputy director of the emerging and zoonotic infectious disease center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on Friday.

Health officials also recommend that people avoid touching their face, eyes or mouth, and stay home from work if they feel ill.

The general public's risk of exposure remains low, the CDC says, but that risk is elevated for healthcare workers and people who live in communities where spread is occurring, such as in Washington and California.

The number of coronavirus cases diagnosed in Washington state rose on Tuesday to 27, including nine deaths in the largest U.S. outbreak to emerge from local transmission. That was up from 18 cases and six deaths a day earlier, state health authorities reported.

Only a small minority of Americans say they have pursued more deliberate ways of avoiding the virus, according to the survey. As few as 5% said they are working from home, 6% said they have canceled or altered travel plans and 8% said they have purchased surgical masks.

Reuters

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