The Apple Watch Health Metric You’re About to Be Monitoring Non-stop? Hand Washing

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Since fear of the transmission of COVID-19 made 20-seconds of hand washing the golden rule of 2020, people have been spending a lot more time crooning Marilyn Monroe-style "Happy Birthday" to themselves in the bathroom mirror. If Apple has anything to say about it, though—all that hygiene harmonizing will soon be over. At today's WWDC briefings, the company announced an Apple Watch hand-washing feature to launch in public beta in July (the full, free version will follow in the fall).

"Washing hands properly for at least 20 seconds can help prevent the spread of illness. In a first-of-its-kind innovation for a wearable, Apple Watch uses the motion sensors, microphone, and on-device machine learning to automatically detect handwashing motions and sounds. It then initiates a 20-second countdown timer, and if the user finishes early, they will be prompted to keep washing," Apple said in a press release.

For the countdown itself, Apple Watch displays a countdown in bubbles that culminates in a burst of the suds to read "Well Done." It's all very whimsical, and will hopefully help close the gap between those who wash their hands thoroughly enough to actually kill germs (science says that's only five percent of people, by the way) and the 95 percent who phone it in with a quick, ineffective rinse.

This comes at a time when hand-washing is of the utmost importance. To stop the spread of COVID-19, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that people wash their hands as often as possible and refrain from touching their faces (in particular the eyes, nose, or mouth), after being in any public or outdoor space. While hand-washing has always been important, in the midst of a global pandemic, taking extra assurances (such as washing your hands for a full 20) can be smart steps to take to do your part from spreading—and protect yourself from contracting—the gruesome disease. Perhaps most useful of all: Apple Watch will remind you to wash your hands the millisecond you return home (because, you know, we've all been guilty of forgetting to make it to the sink post-Trader Joe's run).

Also good to remember: The CDC recommends grabbing a bar of soap before, during, and after prepping a meal, after blowing your nose or sneezing, and, duh, after using the bathroom. So if your hand washing number's looking a little low, you'll soon see the holes in your cleanliness routine displayed right on your Apple Watch face.

Time to put "Happy Birthday" on its farewell tour. Applause!

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