Global statistics show that the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to abate. In Europe, the end of the third wave is in sight. As many of us are preparing for a summer of increased freedom, virologists are preparing for a fourth wave in autumn. This is what we can all do to prevent it.
The COVID case numbers in many Western countries are continuing to decline. Most of these countries are relaxing protective measures. People are breathing a sigh of relief as they return to life after lockdowns and restrictions. Restaurants are reopening. Travel is starting to become possible again. We are seeing more people out in the streets and in offices. Families and friends are beginning to visit each other once more. The challenge we face as COVID-19-related restrictions lift is to properly weigh the risks and rewards before us. How can we enjoy activities that we have worked hard to be able to participate in without setting the stage for a fourth wave?
Finding the balanced: relaxed, but not reckless.
At the beginning of the third wave in March, many experts warned of a possible fourth wave in the fall. Vaccination campaigns around the world are trying to slow and stop the pandemic. This measure is making a massive contribution to preventing another wave.
We cannot rely solely on achieving herd immunity to keep people safe.* New variants can lead to reinfection. Studies have shown that not every infected person produces protective antibodies to the same extent. Even in countries with enough vaccine supplies, it has been difficult to vaccinate enough of the population to reach true herd immunity. A lack of equitable access to vaccines will keep vaccination levels low in much of the Global South. This has led to the emergence of variants—and likely will continue to.  For the near future, the majority of humanity cannot rely on vaccines alone for protection.
Good news for good hand hygiene
This May, on World Hand Hygiene Day, the German Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA) drew attention to the continued importance of hand washing—during and beyond the pandemic. They shared some encouraging statistics: around 70 percent of the population “frequently” or “always” follow the recommendation to wash their hands for 20 seconds. 
For the first time, the COSMO study (a regular German study of pandemic behaviour)** also asked in what situations has hand washing become a habit: 83 percent of respondents frequently or always wash their hands when they come home from outdoors, 80 percent after visiting public places, and 84 percent after using public transport. After contact with people who have signs of a contagious disease, the figure is 87 percent, while washing hands before visiting people who are in poor health due to an illness is part of everyday practice for 84 percent. In other studies, we have seen a marked increase in frequent handwashing since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Thorough hand washing with soap has been established at the latest by the current Corona pandemic. Those who wash their hands regularly and thoroughly effectively remove pathogens from their hands, helping to protect themselves and others. This can interrupt the spread of many infectious diseases.”explains Prof. Dr. Martin Dietrich, Acting Director of the BZgA.
Hand hygiene a bulwark against many infectious diseases
According to the RKI, infectious diseases in Germany declined sharply in 2020 compared to the previous year. For example, the number of gastrointestinal infections caused by rota and noroviruses fell by a full 68 percent from 2019 to 2020. 
Regular and thorough hand hygiene not only helps to significantly reduce the risk of coronavirus infection, but also with all other infectious diseases that can be transmitted via the hands. These include the already-mentioned diarrheal diseases caused by rota or noroviruses, as well as influenza and multi-resistant pathogens.
Practices to protect ourselves and our environment
In addition to frequent handwashing, we can all do a lot in our everyday lives to ensure that a fourth wave does not occur or that its effect is lessened. With these measures, everyone can actively contribute to infection protection:
– Don’t go to work sick.
– Do not send your children to kindergarten or school sick.
– Continue to refrain from shaking hands when greeting or saying goodbye to people.
– Continue to follow local health recommendations around masking-wearing and social distancing.
– Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly.
The BZgA advises hand washing in the following situations:
– After coming home,
– after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing,
– before putting on and after taking off a mask,
– before preparing food and before meals,
– after visiting the toilet,
– before and after contact with sick people,
– before contact with people who are weakened in health,
– after contact with waste,
– and after contact with animals.
The risk of infection increases in public areas. For this reason, on April 1, 2020, the WHO issued a recommendation to place sanitizer dispensers in all public areas. We offer a wide variety of sanitizing stations for every area of application.
We have also developed a smart hygiene solution for public areas. OPHARDT Washroom Monitoring System® (OWMS) gives our customers the opportunity to overcome problems due to a lack of skilled staff, new hygiene regulations, lack of time, and higher hygiene expectations from customers. With realtime data on the state of your washrooms, you can automate task delegation and improve washroom uptime leading to increased health and customer satisfaction.
If you live in Germany, find out about possible government support for the purchase of a sanitizer station. We have compiled all the important information here.
*The so-called herd immunity, is a collective immunity that occurs when as many people as possible have formed antibodies against the virus. It occurs either through infection and recovery or through vaccination.
** Current survey of the COVID-19 Snapshot Monitoring (COSMO) of the University of Erfurt. The BZgA is involved here as a partner. In the joint COSMO project, around 1,000 citizens are surveyed at regular intervals on a representative basis about their perceptions, attitudes, knowledge, and behaviours regarding COVID-19. For more information, click on this link.