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Reported Handwashing Behaviors Among U.S. Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

October 15, 2020

By: The Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch at CDC

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published the “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” which describes handwashing behaviors before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report findings suggest that the percentage of U.S. adults who reported remembering to wash their hands in many situations has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this increase, about 1 in 4 people don’t wash hands at some of the key times to prevent illness, such as after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their noses.

What information is added by this report?

It is widely known that hand hygiene is an important measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens. According to an Internet survey conducted in June 2020, US adults were more likely to remember to wash their hands after experiencing respiratory symptoms, before eating in a restaurant, and before eating at home compared to October 2019.

October 2019 (pre-pandemic) June 2020 (during pandemic)
Before preparing food at home 86.5% 85.7%
After using the bathroom at home 85.9% 89.6%
After using the bathroom in public 95.5% 94.8%
Before eating at home 62.8% 74.4%
Before eating at a restaurant 55.2% 70.6%
After coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose 53.3% 71.2%


Despite observed improvements, less than 75% of survey respondents reported remembering to wash their hands in these situations in 2020.

What are the implications for public health practice?

The promotion of frequent handwashing is critically important in the current context. Public health efforts should be made to encourage handwashing at important times, such as after experiencing respiratory symptoms or before eating.

Read the full CDC report here.

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