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There I stood leaning over the sink, singing "Happy Birthday" twice while washing my hands from a container of foaming soap, all the while wondering how all this singing and scrubbing can possibly be eliminating something as tiny as the Wuhan coronavirus.

Can it really be that simple to wash away this infinitesimal invader and close relative of the familiar cold virus that has struck such hysteria across the planet while firing a micro-torpedo broadside into our economy?

Turns out the answer is yep. It really is just that easy. After checking with the Library of Congress disguised as a cell phone in my right front pocket, I learned some interesting facts that describe how plain ol' hand soap destroys the Wuhan coronavirus (and others) within seconds, forever banishing the tattered remains to the local sewer.

Without delving into the complex (and potentially boring) technicalities of this process, it's enough to say the apparent hybrid properties in soap, anti-bacterial or not, easily penetrates and kills the virus.

Only a drop of soap in the hands diluted in water is enough to do the job, as long as we scrub like we mean it for at least 20 seconds.

It's effective, I learned, because soap is comprised of molecules in the shape of pins, each with a hydrophilic head, which means it easily bonds with water, along with a hydrophobic tail that resists water while connecting with fats and oils. The combination is enough to tear both bacteria and many viruses (including our current Wuhan ravager) apart.

I read that this process of soap-bombing a virus is called protein denaturation. It's also been described as akin to using crowbars to rupture and tear the virus apart.

This may well be more than any valued readers want to know about why soap is so effective in fighting viruses and bacteria. But hey, I feel better now just knowing all that scrubbing and singing really does make a difference.

As to the bottled brands of hand sanitizer many hysterical hoarders scooped up by the basketful last week in a shameful display of selfishness, they, too, are effective by using alcohol (at least 60 percent strength) blended with additives that soothe the skin.

One trick to successfully killing a virus with sanitizers is making sure the stuff remains on your hands about 20 seconds before evaporating. Alcohol, we know, has a way of vanishing within moments.

It's also good to know some bacteria and viruses are more readily killed by alcohol than others, depending on how well it can penetrate their exterior coverings, also known as envelopes. Some viruses have these coatings while others don't.

The alcohol in sanitizers effectively kills the viruses with envelopes, which includes coronavirus. But it's not so effective for those without such coverings, such as norovirus or rhinovirus.

Armed with this knowledge, a bottle of sanitizer and five bars of soap, I'm feeling pretty good about my ability to fight back against this enemy I can't see, feel, hear or touch.

I'm also sure you must be eagerly wondering about my strategic plan of frontal attack from this point on. Here it is. Wash hands and sing three stanzas of "Happy Birthday" each morning and evening, supplemented with four sanitizing sprays during the day.

I'll find out just how destructive these little boogers really are.

Who's elderly?

Those of us widely regarded as America's baby boomers often have a difficult time realizing how quickly the decades have flown. It seems surreal to still feel 38 when you're now more than twice that age.

So at 73, I actually laughed out loud the other day after reading the bitter truth contained in a social media post. It read: "That moment when you are worried about the elderly and realize you are the elderly!"


What the heck, valued readers, I might as well finish today's column by remaining on topic. Gosh knows we can't possibly be hearing enough about the pandemic from media coverage day and night. So what's yet another few paragraphs to add to the 50 million or so already written and broadcast?

We have decided to stay home and away from others, including joining groups, as much as possible until the end of March.

It's not so much in fear of contracting this virus, although we'd certainly prefer not to live in relative isolation. It just feels like the responsible thing for us is to do all we can to keep covid-19 from spreading to the most vulnerable in our community.

I've seen those who choose not to self-restrict as much as possible during this outbreak being compared to one coughing in another person's face while not knowing whether they are contagious.

As rapidly as time flies nowadays (most of March has already flown by), this period will pass quickly and, who knows, could make all the difference in containing the spread of this destructive intruder in our everyday lives.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at

Editorial on 03/22/2020

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