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Infectious Diseases

Updated 29 April 2020

Touching your face is a coronavirus danger: tips to help you stop

If people change their behaviour immediately, we might see some flattening of the Covid-19 curve much more quickly than otherwise.

You've been told over and over not to touch your face during the coronavirus pandemic, but that's easier said than done.

Most people touch their face up to 23 times an hour and don't even realise they're doing it, a psychologist says.

"Typically, we'll do something like shaking someone's hand and then failing to wash our hands properly, followed by touching our faces and then we're off to the races with an infection and symptoms that will show up in two to 14 days," said Jim Pomerantz, a professor of psychological sciences at Rice University in Houston.

"It's much better to prevent an infection than to try to deal with it after the fact, and that's the purpose of our work here," he said in a university news release.

Here are Pomerantz's tips to keep your fingers off your face.

  • Ask a partner to alert you when you touch your face. Wear perfume or bracelets to remind you not to touch your face, and write down how many times you touch your face each day.
  • Remind others when you see them touching their face to stop.
  • Keep your hands busy. Put them in your pockets, hold a ball or a deck of cards, or make fists for one minute if you bring them near your face.
  • Keep your elbows off the table, sit in chairs without armrests or in the middle of the couch. If you find it is hard not to touch your face, sit on your hands.
  • Practice relaxation by focusing on long, slow, deep breaths and on relaxing muscles that feel tense. Sit in a quiet place and dwell on the present moment, not the past or future. Spend time in nature, but keep a safe distance from others.

"Many of us have taken a course in introductory psychology where we learned about conditioning and the laws of behaviour, and how we can establish and change behaviour," Pomerantz said.

"We know that this works. And if people put these ideas into practice immediately, we're going to see, we hope, some flattening of the curve much more quickly than otherwise," he added.

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