• Reduce your COVID-19 risk: wash hands, clean cellphones and workstations

a person in the dark touching an iPhone screen to maybe turn off the alarm

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, many people worry about contracting the virus by touching surfaces, such as public sinks, cellphones or computer workstations. Dr. Clayton Cowl, chair of Mayo Clinic's Division of Preventive, Occupational and Aerospace Medicine, says that while the virus that causes COVID-19 may live on surfaces for hours to days, people can reduce their risk of contracting it by practicing certain hygiene strategies.

"Right now, your overall risk of getting the virus that causes COVID-19 from something that you touch or pick up is fairly low," says Dr. Cowl. "However, in order to minimize your risk even more, there are certain things that you can do to prevent exposure to the virus."

Dr. Cowl says everyone should avoid touching their faces and should practice social distancing.

Watch: Dr. Cowl demonstrates how to wash hands, clean cell phones and wipe down workstations.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Cowl are in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy "Clayton Cowl, M.D., Preventive, Occupational and Aerospace Medicine, Mayo Clinic."

Wash hands

Dr. Cowl says good hand hygiene means washing hands with soap and water. And if soap and water is not available, use hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes.

"Washing hands properly is easy to do if you follow simple directions," says Dr. Cowl. "Turn the water on. Get some hand soap. Make sure that you wash your thumbs. People always forget the thumbs. Make sure that you wash your hands very well. If you sing 'Happy Birthday' twice, that's about the right amount of time to make sure that everything is clean on the hands."

"Once you're done applying the soap, rinse," says Dr. Cowl. "Use your elbow to turn the water off. When you're ready to dry, paper towels are the best thing to use. You want to avoid air dryers that my aerosolize virus all around the room. We're trying to avoid that as much as possible. And that's all there is to it." 

Clean cellphones

Dr. Cowl says cellphones should be cleaned often.

"Cellphones are something that we use all the time," says Dr. Cowl. "And particularly if you hand yours off to someone else and get it back, it's a good idea to keep the thing clean. So if you take a wet wipe and spread it over the face of the phone and along the sides and back where we hold it, it's really as simple as that." 

"Any time that you take your cellphone and hand it off to someone else, and then get it back, it's usually a good idea to do a quick wipe," says Dr. Cowl.

Wipe down workspaces

Work spaces are also areas to keep clean, especially if more than one person uses them.

"Many people in a clerical environment have a phone, a keyboard and a computer monitor," says Dr. Cowl. "To clean, take a basic wipe and wipe the keys, the keyboard and the screen at the beginning of the day. If it's a community or shared desktop area, you'll want to do it each time that you're sitting down, at least through this part of the pandemic. For a phone, if it's a community-based phone, wipe off each of the headset pieces. And buttons."

Check the CDC website for additional updates on COVID-19.
For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

Related articles