[ Question ]

Should we all be more hygenic in normal times?

by DanielFilan 1 min read17th Mar 20205 comments

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I've heard people say that this should be the trigger to be more careful about disease after the pandemic is over: e.g. people with mild colds shouldn't leave the home without a mask, all big events should have hand sanitiser. One example is this opinion piece by Matt Ridley (content warning: politics). What's the evidence on the cost/benefit analysis of marginal hygiene in rich countries when a pandemic isn't looming?

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In my post on hand washing David Mannheim did a quick estimate suggesting that the time costs of handwashing more often would roughly break even, based only on the expected work time saved from not getting colds. That's before factoring in effects of your cleanliness on the health of other people, the physical unpleasantness of being sick, or any diseases other than common colds. So my guess is that the cost-benefit analysis of having better hand hygiene is strongly positive even on a normal year; even more so when you take into account the small chance of stemming the next big epidemic.

For two of the other main things that generally get recommended for day-to-day hygiene, not touching your face and coughing/sneezing into your elbow, the cost is mostly in building the habit, so if the habit is already built as a result of this pandemic then the cost seems trivial.