CDC: Young White Men Least Likely to Wash Hands

Carolyn Crist

October 09, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Frequent handwashing can reduce the spread of the coronavirus, yet some Americans are still not washing their hands often during the pandemic, according to a new CDC study.

Overall, less than 75% of Americans are washing their hands after coughing, sneezing, blowing their nose, handling food or using the restroom, according to the study by the CDC COVID-19 Response Team. White people, men and adults between ages 18-24 are the least likely to adhere to the COVID-19 handwashing guidance.

"Hand hygiene is one important measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens," the study authors wrote.

The research team looked at survey data from October 2019 before the pandemic began and again in June 2020, when COVID-19 outbreaks were prevalent in states in the South and West. The first survey included about 3,600 people, and the second included about 4,000.

In good news, the team found a significant increase in overall handwashing practices during the six-month period. People were twice as likely to wash their hands after coughing, sneezing and blowing their nose, and more adults reported washing their hands before eating in a restaurant and after using the bathroom at home. In both 2019 and 2020, higher percentages of women, older adults and Black and Hispanic people reported washing their hands after multiple situations as compared with men, young adults and white people.

"Because older adults, Black persons and Hispanic persons have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, engagement in preventive behaviors by these persons is particularly important," the study said.

Although the study didn't investigate the reasons why some people may wash their hands more than others, previous studies have shown that older adults and women perceive their personal risks of contracting COVID-19 to be higher than younger adults and men.

To address the differences in handwashing practices, the CDC recommended new communication strategies to reach those who aren't washing their hands as often.

"Public health efforts should promote frequent handwashing for all, with attention to tailoring messaging to men, young adults and non-Hispanic White adults," the CDC team wrote. "Particular focus should be placed on encouraging handwashing at important time such as before eating and after experiencing respiratory symptoms."


CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, "Characteristics Associated with Adults Remembering to Wash Hands in Multiple Situations Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, October 2019 and June 2020."