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Lessons That Go Beyond the Coronavirus Outbreak

News of coronavirus infections is causing many people to panic.

It’s unclear how widespread or deadly this illness is going to be, but for once, instead of telling you not to worry, I’m going to suggest riding that wave. Channel that fear into useful action — and find the lessons that go beyond this outbreak.

There are absolutely things we can do to protect people from infection by this novel respiratory virus, which has caused hundreds of deaths in Wuhan, China, and has spread to other countries. Some involve a societal response, but others are very simple.

Most important, wash your hands. Wash them often. Wash them for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Wash them especially well if you’re about to eat. Wash them after you’ve blown your nose, coughed or sneezed. Make it routine that all members of the household wash their hands when they get home.

I’m a pediatrician, and I know it can be hard to do this yourself, let alone get others to do it. So make it a game. Offer incentives. There’s almost nothing that you, or your family, can do that will protect you more from infections.

Here are five steps: (1) wet your hands, (2) lather them, and then (3) scrub them for at least 20 seconds. No one ever looks at a clock, so try singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice, from start to finish. If you’re trying to get kids to do this, come up with a funny hand-washing song to the same tune. A colleague of mine recommends singing the alphabet.

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