Sneezing Specifics: The rules of covering your mouth

by epi on July 9, 2012

Q: My son’s teacher sent home a list of rules for his class. He is in the 5th grade and the list had 44 rules. I find this many rules very extreme for a child’s class and there are many rules that just seem ridiculous,but one of the rules stated that when a child coughs or sneezes they must cover their mouth with their hand, which is fine, but she goes one step further in stating that it must be the hand, using a fist is unacceptable. Is there a proper way to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze or is this teacher just being way too demanding?

A: His teacher is very specific! However, she is partially correct. It is appropriate to cover your mouth and nose with your hand if you sneeze. A fist is not “large” enough to cover a person’s mouth and nose. However, if you cough, it would be fine to use either your hand or your fist. The point is not to spray anyone near you when you sneeze or cough.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

P wright July 9, 2012 at 7:29 am

Cover with the inside of your elbow! If you cough into your hand and then touch everything, it’s the same as coughing on it! Germs live for hours or longer on surfaces and in the air!


Alice July 9, 2012 at 9:33 am

Both suggestions are wrong! You should cough/sneeze in the inside of your elbow, if a child coughs or sneezes into their hand, it’ll be everywhere within minutes! Yuck.


Winifred Rosenburg July 9, 2012 at 10:47 am

Actually you should sneeze into a hankerchief or tissue. If you sneeze into your elbow, your shirt is now contaminated for the rest of the day. Most teachers now stock their classrooms with large bottles of hand sanitizer. The teacher should encourage them to use it after they sneeze, especially if they don’t get a tissue out in time.


Pam July 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Sometimes a sneeze comes on so quickly there is no time to reach for a tissue, so I guess the best option in those circumstances is to sneeze into the elbow. This website from the federal government has a cute Sesame Street video (maybe a little immature for 5th graders, but shows that this is how children are being encouraged to sneeze).


Heather July 9, 2012 at 8:39 pm

I’m a schoolteacher, and I have to say I’m surprised by the teacher’s list. (Not that her list is really the subject of the question.) Teachers usually have four or five, like “Do not use mean words” or “Always ask before leaving the room”; usually, we take the stance that children are likelier to forget as the number of items increases. I’ve never met a teacher with such a lengthy list!


Lilli July 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm

I’m with Winifred on this one – sneezing into your elbow is gross! If I sneeze unexpectedly and can’t get a tissue I sneeze into my hand and then wash them immediately to minimize spreading germs. Unless you’re in the habit of changing your shirt each time you sneeze, walking around with a germy elbow all day is far worse!


Frances Thomas July 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm

I’m a teacher and expect students to know to sneeze into their elbow, since this reduces spreading germs. The chances of the inside of their elbow touching the doorknob, books and papers, a marker at the whiteboard or even their desktop is much less than the likelihood of their hand touching these. Especially in school where sickness can spread so quickly and cause some to miss school, this is just a matter of courtesy and respect.
As for the number of rules, I usually use only a few rules and then connect those to whatever is related to them, but it sounds like the teacher was using the rules to make sure all bases were covered and prevent later misunderstanding or someone using the excuse that they didn’t know what was expected. Most teachers are expected to teach the class(es) what the expectations are at the beginning of the school year.


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