- Grade 7, St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic School, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
The novel coronavirus pandemic has caused panic around the world and everyone wants to do their part in overcoming this virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends regular hand washing and social distancing as the best precaution measures. This study investigates and experiments the importance of this concept by demonstrating it to the younger generations by using a lotion that glows under the UV light. The glowing lotion was monitored before and after handwashing to show the importance of washing hands correctly. The spread of the lotion to others was also investigated to highlight the significance of social distancing.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses from the common cold to severe respiratory diseases. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is currently a major international crisis. Like many others, the author wanted to make a change and become involved in the fight against this virus. According to the WHO, the best way to prevent spreading the infection is regularly washing hands and avoiding close contact with others, particularly those showing respiratory illness symptoms (coughing and sneezing), which is also called social distancing1.
Why is hand washing and social distancing important?
Some germs and viruses have a layer of protein and fat enveloping them. COVID-19 has been found to be one of these types. Mixtures of water and soap are able to damage this outer layer by dissolving it. When the virus loses its wrapped envelope, it loses the chance of survival2.
Social distancing is also important because when someone coughs or sneezes they will spray droplets of water that might contain the virus1. The virus can also be transferred when a person is in close contact with someone, such as shaking hands, hugging, or sharing the same objects such as books, toys, crayons, et cetera.
Do you wash your hands regularly and properly?
This is the first question that was asked by everyone and initiated this research. From the preliminary inputs, it was concluded that there is an urgent need to educate people, especially younger generations, with proper handwashing skills and the rationale behind it. The best way was to educate the students at schools so they can pass on the information to their families. This could have a major impact on the community. The research was first conducted at the author’s school and then expanded to other schools and daycares in Saskatoon, SK, Canada.
The best way to learn a concept is usually through visual aids, which is why this study focuses on visually showing the students how important proper handwashing is to fight off a virus. In this work, a lotion (Glo Germ) that contains a fluorescent dye glowing under ultraviolet (UV) light was applied to the students’ hands. This is a completely safe material and has already been used in hospitals for training3.
How dirty are your hands, and does handwashing really help?
To answer these questions, swabs were taken from students’ hands before and after washing with soap and water and cultured in agar plates. The plates were kept in an incubator in the lab and monitored daily to check the germs’ growth. Figure-1 shows the samples after only 2 days.
Figure-1. This figure shows swabs taken from five students’ hands after growing in agar plates. The bottom row shows colonies of germs before handwashing, and the top row displays the samples after washing hands with soap and water.
As observed in Figure-1, student #4’s hands had more germs growing after washing with soap and water. Why? He accidentally patted his hands on his clothes to dry instead of using a paper towel! Yes, the clothes have germs too.
Younger children had cleaner hands
Interesting but true! Swabs were taken from preschoolers and from grade 6-8 students (Figure-2). Preschoolers generally had fewer colonies of germs growing from the samples taken from their hands. The reason could be due to being supervised by teachers and adults when washing their hands.
Figure-2. Colonies of microorganisms growing in agar plates loaded with germs from hands. The top row shows samples from preschoolers and the bottom row shows the samples from older kids (grades 6-8).
How quickly can you spread the germs?
To find out the answer to this question, the lotion was applied to three students’ hands in the classroom. Within less than half an hour, it was spread to their own clothes, arms and faces, other students, and the classroom objects (desks, pencils, books, etc). Figure-3A shows examples of spreading germs. From this figure in the study, it can be understood why social distancing and avoiding close contact are such important elements to stop COVID-19 from spreading.
Figure-3A. This figure visually shows how fast germs are spreading (the faces shown in this picture are from the author/students with approved parental consent).
How well do you wash your hands? Do you miss any spots?
The next objective was to find out if students wash their hands correctly and effectively. This time the lotion was applied on everyone’s hands, and pictures were taken from their hands. They were asked to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. In the next step, their hands were checked under UV light, and the spots missed during washing were shown to them with pictures (Figure-3B).
Most students had to wash several times (2-8 times) to properly remove the stains from the nails, fingertips, wrists, knuckles, thumbs, palms, back of the hand, and between the fingers. The most missed spots were fingertips and nails, wrists, and between the fingers. Then thumbs and back of the hands were the most commonly missed spots. The palms and knuckles were usually washed off after the first wash.
Over 500 students were tested in this study. Only 1% of the students eliminated all the germs after the first wash. About 10% of students needed to wash their hands seven to eight times to completely remove the stains. 80% of students had no spot missed after two to four washes. They observed the spots they had missed and washed those spots again. This shows how important it is to wash hands properly because without the lotion, people cannot visually check which areas of their hands they have missed.
Figure-3B. This figure visually shows how you can miss areas when washing your hands.
All the students were very excited to learn about the importance of regular and proper handwashing by visualization of the context. This study impacted many lives and families in this city. The study was originally planned to be conducted in all the schools in Saskatoon but was later completed in only six different locations due to quarantine and school closures. The future plan for this research is to resume the training in all the schools in Saskatoon in the fall.
Tips for effective hand washing produced as a result of this experiment:
- Wet your hands with clean warm water, and start singing the song Happy Birthday twice, or count from 1001 to 1020.
- Use soap and lather to make bubbles
- Rub your hands together vigorously, rub your palms, interlock your fingers and rub between your fingers, rub back of your hands, knuckles and wrists, rub each finger one by one, rub the nails and fingertips and finally give a good scratch to your palms with your fingertips
- Rinse well with warm water while still rubbing
- Use a paper towel to turn off the tap
- Try drying your hands with a clean reusable or paper towel. Never pat your hands on your clothes for drying!
Contribution to the field
With the current pandemic and crisis over COVID-19, it is every individual’s responsibility to be proactive and carefully follow WHO’s instructions to help fight Covid-19. Everyone has to maintain quarantine and precautionary measures to avoid spreading the virus. This requires an urgent need to educate people about the importance of these measures. The best approach is to start with the younger generations in schools. Although in this pandemic they may not be the group at the highest risk, they can be a risk to adults and the elderly by being carriers of the virus. They can also transfer the information to their families and expand the circle of education. The other important aspect of this project is a visualization of the concept, which is an effective mode of education. Most learners perform their best when the subject is presented in the form of visual approaches, such as pictures and videos.
Agar plate: a petri dish that contains nutrients in a solid medium (agar) and is used to grow microorganisms and germs.
COVID-19: Novel coronavirus
WHO: World Health Organization
With special thanks to Aiden Naeima for his help in all the demonstrations, and Dr. Azita Haddadi for her help and supervision in the project and demonstrations, ordering the material and using the incubator in her laboratory at the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, University of Saskatchewan. The author would also like to thank Mehran Yarahamadi, for his help in preparing the agar plates; and Ava Drabyk for her help in a demonstration in one of the locations.
A sincere appreciation goes to all the staff, teachers and principals of St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic School, Maria Montessori School, City Park Public School, University of Saskatchewan Campus Day Care Centre, Oak Trees and Acorn Child Care Centre, CFS Saskatoon Early Learning and Family Centre, for their time and support.
Conflict of Interest:
The author declares no conflict of interest.
- “Protecting yourself and others from the spread COVID-19” WHO.int, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public (Accessed on March 20, 2020)
- Christy Reed, “How soap kills COVID-19 on hands’ Unesco.org, https://en.unesco.org/news/how-soap-kills-covid-19-hands (Accessed on March 20, 2020)
- “Handwashing training” Glogerm.com, https://www.glogerm.com/handwashing.html (Accessed on March 20, 2020)
About the Author
Amanda Naeima is going into grade eight in the fall. She enjoys basketball, volleyball, playing with her dog, and the summertime. Her favourite subject in school is math. She plays SMBA basketball and is on the basketball team at school as well. She also plays on her school volleyball team. Her dog’s name is Chase. He was named Chase because he likes chasing people and being chased.
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