When our famously germaphobic president joked this week that he hadn’t touched his face in weeks, “and I miss it,” it didn’t take long for video evidence to the contrary to surface.
President Trump touches his face, probably more than he realizes. Which makes him pretty much like the rest of us. In a study reported in 2015 in the American Journal of Infection Control, medical students at the University of New South Wales in Australia were observed touching their faces 23 times an hour.
Seems low, honestly.
Washing our hands and not touching our “T-zone” — essentially the areas in and around the eyes, nose, and mouth — are major recommendations for avoiding both the new coronavirus COVID-19 and the not-so-new flu. Although humming “Happy Birthday” twice (or something cooler that also lasts 20 seconds) while soaping up could just mean adding a new wrinkle to an old routine, not touching your face means breaking what might be a lifelong habit.
No one says it’s going to be easy.
“It’s virtually impossible for us not to touch ourselves,” said Dr. Paula Wallin, a psychologist who practices in Camp Hill. "It’s so reflexive. I just came out of a session and I had an itchy eye and I touched my eye.
"Habits are things that we do without thinking, and that’s the hard part. Imagine if you had to think through every step of tying your shoelaces. They’re efficient,” she said. “You have to use a manual override for your automatic behavior.”
Wallin, who wrote a book, Taming Your Inner Brat, about overcoming “self-defeating behavior,” said she’s more used to working with patients interested in learning how not to overspend or who want to lose weight or exercise more.
Try keeping your hands clasped together when you’re not using them.
Tell yourself not to touch your face. “That’s another channel into your brain to remind you.”
Consider wearing gloves in public as yet another reminder of where your fingers don’t belong.
Or "maybe you need to put a barrier, or some kind of restriction, whatever it would take, to not touch your face,” Wallin said.
Enter Dr. Will Sawyer, and Henry the Hand.
Sawyer, a family physician in Sharonville, Ohio, has been evangelizing for years against touching our “T-zones," and created a cartoon character, Henry the Hand, to teach hand hygiene.
“We’ve created the non-pharmaceutical vaccine,” he said. “Don’t put your fingers in your eyes, nose, and mouth.”
And if you absolutely must?
“Use a tissue.”
At henrythehand.com, the home of Sawyer’s Henry the Hand Foundation, you can buy Henry’s Health Shield. For the possibly too-reasonable price of $3 or $60 for a box of 25 (“the shipping cost is more than we charge"), you get a Henry the Hand-branded version of a chemical splash shield.
“Masks are for sick people. Shields are for healthy people,” said Sawyer, who said wearing the shields is “very effective for changing the unconscious behavior,” by raising awareness of how many times the user touches his or her face.
Think wearing a shield might be annoying?
There’s a website, donottouchyourface.com that, using your webcam, claims to be able to help you avoid touching your face by sending a push notification when you do. It seems, frankly, like a great way to give someone access to videos of yourself that could come back to haunt you.
Sawyer sometimes wields a clicker, like the ones dog trainers use, to remind others when they touch their T-zones. “It’s called operant conditioning,” he said of his clicking at others. As worries increase about infection, people, he said, begin to accept what he calls innovations — "others call them nuisances” — to cut their risk.
Does he get invited a lot of places?
“No, I don’t,” he said laughing, noting that he’s been “a solo family physician for 33 years.”