Can We Talk About How to Cover Your Cough?

Can we talk about how to cover your cough/sneeze?


The correct handwashing technique has gotten a lot of play these last several days, and as a semi-germaphobe, I’m here for it. In order to avoid spreading illness and maintain acceptable hygiene, it’s very important to wash frequently and correctly.


But proper technique for covering a cough or sneeze is apparently something the US population needs to learn – at least the adults do because I checked with my kid and she knew exactly what I was talking about, confirming she’d seen the same imagery everywhere from the school bus to her doctor’s office.


First, let it be said that I do appreciate all efforts to cover/contain a cough or sneeze, but what really makes my heart sing is when I see someone doing it correctly. Coughing spreads droplets as far as six meters. Sneezes travel over 75 mph and spread droplets as far as eight meters. These droplets stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes!


To do it right, you need to use a handkerchief/tissue or your upper arm.

Hankies are great because they inhibit the germ-ridden droplets from transferring to your newly washed hand for you to spread all over the place. But if you don’t carry a hanky around constantly (because honestly, they’re kinda gross) or you aren’t clutching a disposable tissue the moment your cough assaults you, you need to retrain your brain to shield your cough with your upper sleeve, NOT your hand.


You see, covering a cough with an open palm does very little to contain the droplets [read: germs], and at the same time, they’re transferred to the hand, which is used to do EVERYthing. Likewise covering with your hand positioned like you’re holding an ice cream cone is even less effective at containing the effluvia, and just as effective at contaminating those freshly washed hands. Think of all the hands you’ve shaken; door handles you’ve pulled, railings you’ve grabbed to steady yourself, doorbells you press, buffet spoons and tongs you use, telephones you pick up, papers you pass, restaurant salt shakers… you get the point.


But when you use your arm you get better coverage, and we just don’t touch that many other things with that part of our bodies.



And for heaven’s sake turn away from the people you’re talking to, or the food you’re preparing or standing near.