Ever since I can remember, I’ve been teetering on the proverbial line between suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder and being downright disgusted by people’s vile public habits. With the recent flu and norovirus epidemics, my trepidations have become unbearable with every subway ride and trip to a public restroom. To calm the pre-med hypochondriac ingrained inside of me, my online research revealed that both illnesses could be easily combated by simply washing hands frequently and avoiding infected individuals. The real kicker here, especially for those living in a major city, is that we have to help ourselves help others evade contracting the flu, norovirus or any other contagious illness.
The first and certainly most neglected rule is to be courteous enough to keep our germs to ourselves in public places. As a commuter to NYU, I’ve witnessed an unacceptable number of subway riders sneeze into their hands and then proceed to use that same hand to hold the railings and poles. Since sneezing into the upper arm is too complicated, perhaps we should start investing in anti-bacterial wipes to bring onto the trains. The MTA could conceivably provide them at every station, but that’s as likely as the subway ever running on schedule.
Another critical and overlooked rule is to simply wash our hands after using the restroom. Hand washing was one of the first things we learned in preschool when we weren’t busy picking our noses or throwing rocks at the opposite sex. Despite this early life lesson, I constantly see people walking out of the bathroom without washing their hands. Yes, I am calling out my fellow NYU students. I notice you. I also notice when you wash your hands with just water and not soap. There was an old joke on “Seinfeld” about wanting people who are simultaneously at the bathroom sinks with you to at least pretend to wash their hands to satisfy others’ concerns. That’s not good enough for me. Hand washing takes seven seconds (I timed it), and there’s no reason for any of us to abstain.
Understandably, there will be circumstances in which contact with other individuals is unavoidable, but some precautions should be taken. Some hospitals have appropriately isolated and quarantined people infected with the flu so someone who has broken a leg will not be exposed to them. However, not nearly enough hospitals have implemented such a system. Every hospital should designate specific areas for contagious and non-contagious patients. This may prove to be extremely costly and convoluted with hospital overcrowding these days, but hopefully some type of compromise could be reached to employ this preventive care.
Public health is not something that should be taken lightly, especially with how effortless it is to avoid contagious germs. I remain cautiously optimistic that with time and further epidemic crises, more attention and focus will lay the foundation for a serious remedy to this problem. Until then, we need to abide by these previously discussed precautions for our own wellbeing and defense. Which raises the question — why are you still reading this and not washing your hands?
A version of this article was published in the Wednesday, Feb. 6 print edition. Brandon Jacobi is a contributing columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.