Wash your hands. That’s the directive from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control — and also from Gloria Gaynor, who is staring down the coronavirus pandemic by bringing back her famous 1978 song “I Will Survive” in the service of public health and better hand hygiene.
Gaynor, the Grammy-winning disco legend, is the voice behind the recent viral sensation: a TikTok video of her washing her hands became a social media success, even sparking its own “I Will Survive” Challenge with others showing off their hand-washing techniques. (The associated hashtag has over 2 million views on TikTok alone, as of Monday.)
“We are all trying to survive this thing. I don’t think there’s a better song for it than this,” Gaynor told TIME over the phone when we caught up with her to check in on the popular video, which shows her joyously cleansing her hands while singing in her home bathroom in New Jersey. As for the choice of song? “It absolutely fit.”
For those who haven’t spent karaoke night singing “I Will Survive” for the last few decades, here’s a lyric refresher: “At first I was afraid, I was petrified / kept thinking I could never live without you by my side / but then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong and I grew strong / and I learned how to get along… Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die? Oh no, not I! I will survive!”
In the era of social distancing, self-isolation and uncertainty, these words seem particularly apt.
The CDC recommends frequent hand-washing as one of the most effective ways to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 infection. But while most of us may be used to a quick rinse, it’s important to maintain the soap-and-water action for at least 20 seconds. When this guidance first started taking off on social media, some experts suggested singing the birthday song twice to time out the process. But Gaynor had a different idea.
“Personally, I think happy birthday is the worst song in the world,” she told TIME. “I’ve only once heard it when it sounded good.” To spare us the need to sing it, then, we have the “I Will Survive” replacement option.
Gaynor didn’t know her artistic contribution to coronavirus prevention would be such a hit; her original video on TikTok has nearly 300 thousand views, and it quickly spread across Twitter and other platforms far and wide with people singing along. But she’s happy to be able to get the word out and watch followers embrace hand hygiene.
“I never expected this, but I’m so glad that so many people are taking this seriously,” she said. “It amazes me how I can go into a restroom and I can see people walking in and out without washing their hands! It’s really something you need to do all the time.” Gaynor added that she’s upped her own hand-washing and hand-sanitizing frequency. “And I’m trying not to touch my face. I think that’s the hardest thing to do!” she said.
Gaynor released a new gospel album, Testimony, last summer, received a Grammy for her work and is still an active performer. But like many fellow artists, Gaynor has chosen to limit her traveling and has canceled or postponed events due to coronavirus. “It makes no sense acting crazy and being daring. I don’t want to get people in a group and find out people are sick.” (On Sunday night, a number of cities and states around the U.S. instituted further restrictions on public gatherings and the operations of establishments like restaurants, bars and gyms.)
“I’m just taking things one day at a time. I don’t think we need to panic; we just need to be careful,” Gaynor said. “I trust God to save me and keep me and as long as I’m doing my part, he’ll do his part.”
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