COVID-19. Will Lady Macbeth style Hand-Washing at Sports Stadiums become the long term ‘norm’?

Now wash your hands, please. Forming an orderly queue at the rugby/football stadium toilets to wash your hands has become quite a thing. Well, according to Twitter, where it’s being mentioned a fair bit at the moment.

From a personal viewpoint I’ve attended rugby based ‘mass gatherings’ at stadiums for many years, and I can confidently say that it hasn’t always been like this. A number of reasons;

  1. The hand washing facilities in the toilets at most stadiums – particularly the older ones – are woefully inadequate. It’s like they weren’t expecting anyone to even think about it.
  2. It’s physically challenging. Most people will head to the toilets during ‘natural breaks’. Half time or full time, when it’s a frantic rush to make room for more beer. The toilets are packed and it’s not easy to; stop, admire your reflection in the mirror, lather up your hands with the disinfectant soap and give them a good rub. The tide of bodies quickly sweeps you out of the door.
  3. It’s just not what people do. Obviously these are just my experiences. There may be rigorous hand washing happening in other toilets.

COVID-19 Coronavirus has changed everything. Well, maybe. There are really good reasons for avoiding/slowing down the spread of COVID-19 and the message does seem to be getting across.

This might have had something to do with there being an avalanche of information, telling us to wash our hands to avoid spreading a deadly virus. Everyone has been doing it from Prime Ministers and Presidents through to animated cartoons and memes.

To be honest, my secret wish is that the biggest impact from all this information will be to have come from ‘unofficial’ sources. My favorite is an adaptation of the World Health Organisation graphic for washing your hands, using the text from Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Oh yes!

This was created by Rosie Swayne from the FOSSILHEADS, a band ‘putting the ‘oooh’ back into existential doom’ (I liked them just from that description, and now I’ve listened to some of their music, I like them even more).

The Fossilheads image did go viral on social media (ha ha) and you can read more about it in this article from The Poke: Handwashing with Lady Macbeth is the way forward in the fight against the coronavirus – the image is below. Totally guilt free.

Source: World Heath Organisation hand-washing guidance using the words of Lady Macbeth (W. Shakespeare) adapted by The Fossilheads – brilliant!

Unintended Consequences of Hand-Washing. Sticking with the Lady Macbeth theme there are some interesting psychological and behavioral aspects to handwashing. The idea of washing away guilt is one of them. I’m wondering if Lady Macbeth’s actions might have crept deeply into our subconscious? Depends what you are feeling guilty about though, I suppose…

Other ‘psychological effects’ have been described in 6 Purely Psychological Effects of Washing Your Hands published on PsyBlog. They cover things like; being more optimistic, feeling superior to those who don’t wash their hands and ‘guilting’ other people into washing their hands. Good old peer pressure and a bit of social practice theory. This aspect might be of interest to anyone who’s hoping to change group behaviours as a result of coronavirus. I wrote about social practice theory here: Cycling to Work, ‘it’s just what we do…’ could Social Practice Theory help? (I know its about cycling, but the principles apply).

Part of me is wondering what the long term consequences of this focus on hand-washing will be. Will it stick? Will we see a general improvement in health from good hand hygiene? Will we be less or more guilty? Will soap sales boom? Will hand washing facilities improve at public venues? Will we become more conversational as we wash hands together at the sinks in the sports stadium? (I’ve found it’s more socially acceptable to chat at the sink rather than the urinal…)

And will there be unknown unintended consequences? Who knows what, but the important thing is that we keep an eye out for their emergence. They might be brilliant and we want to amplify them, or they might be ‘not so good’, and we need to dampen them down.

Global Hand Washing Day – October 15th. One thing I have learnt is that there is a designated day to raise awareness of hand-washing. It’s organised by the Global Handwashing Partnership which you can find out about here; About Handwashing. Its a big issue for the well-being of society, globally. Maybe one good thing emerging from the coronavirus situation is that the profile of handwashing is being highlighted.

Source: Global Handwashing Partnership

It hasn’t always been this way. The history of handwashing and the people who have promoted it doesn’t make easy reading. Two figures spring to mind, Florence Nightingale (a favourite of mine -I previously written about here: Florence Nightingale; the mother of Infographics ) had the data to prove the case back in the 1850’s.

But what I really wanted to talk about was Ignaz Semmelweis and his attempts to introduce handwashing into medicine in the mid 1800’s. But that will have to wait until I get back to the usual sort of stuff I write about – how organisations, institutions and bureaucracies frequently resist change and crush innovative individuals. More on that in the next post, happy days.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. The benefits of handwashing have been known for years – yet its still not widespread. Good practice isn’t necessarily common practice.
  2. The impact on behaviour from the avalanche of information is uncertain. It might be all good, but there might be unintended consequences.
  3. Some ‘unofficial’ activities can reach more people than the most carefully designed and heavily funded ‘campaign’. Just think of Lady Macbeth while washing your hands (nice work Fossilheads).

I have written about handwashing previously. Its not like I’m obsessed or anything

Hand Sanitisation (washing) and visual management in hospital:

Visual Management. Theory, Case Studies and the Reality of Sustaining Improvement

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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