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Why Handshakes Are Out: COVID-19 Etiquette

Why Handshakes Are Out: COVID-19 Etiquette

As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has people in a panic, it’s understandable that the uncertainly of it all is raising our collective anxiety. While there are those who aren’t too worried, it’s everyone’s obligation to practice precautionary measures to protect us all.

“Social distancing” is the phrase du jour, and handshaking is just too close for comfort. Simply put, something as basic as a handshake is potentially harmful. We’re so used to extending an arm to say our salutations, but this gesture is a germ-filled exchange that must be eliminated, at least while coronavirus is still contagious.

It’s not rude to refuse a handshake. Not now, not ever. As the numbers of those that are infected rise, keep your hands to yourself and remind others to follow suit. It’s a proactive measure that’s easy to implement, and the less contact you have with others, the better off you’ll be.

Why shaking makes us sick

Handshaking is thought to have been popularized by the 17th century Quakers, who viewed a simple handclasp as a more egalitarian alternative to bowing or tipping a hat, which was signs of deference and respect to a social superior. The handshake greeting later became commonplace, and by the 1800s, etiquette manuals often included guidelines for the proper handshaking technique. Fast forward to now, and it seems silly that we’re still practicing this health-compromising “Hello.” The only “social superiors” these days are those with more likes or followers on social media.

In a nutshell, you have no idea where the hands of a stranger (or even someone you know) have been. Without getting too gritty, imagine the worst (wayward wiping) and you’ll wonder why you’ve ever shaken someone’s hand.

According to Harvard Health, “Hands carry germs that can spread infections to others. And some of these infections can be very serious, including those that can’t be killed by standard antibiotics.”

If the folks at Harvard are averse to the handshake, the rest of us with average IQs ought to sit up and pay attention.

Handshake alternatives: from the thumbs up to the toe tap

You can still be plenty friendly without putting yourself at risk. What’s wrong with a welcoming wave or a neighborly thumbs up? The sentiment is still there without skin-on-skin contact that has us concerned.

Some other ways to skip the shake include:

  • Toe-tapping: Stick out a foot and tap toes with your pal. Don’t try this with someone who seems unsteady on their feet. A slip and fall aren’t worth the “What’s up?”
  • Nodding: Use your head—both figuratively and literally. A knowing nod is an expression we all understand, so get your neck in gear and greet people that way.
  • Bowing: Many in the Japanese culture have been bowing to one another for centuries. It’s not only a way to say hello, but a sign of respect, gratitude, and even sympathy. Follow their lead and lean over.
  • Hand on heart: Muslims have been placing their right hand over their hearts “since the time of prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. In conservative parts of Muslim majority countries, it’s common to place the palm of the hand on the heart, while tilting and bowing.
  • Joined palms: Recently practiced by Prince Charles and other members of British royalty, this is the Hindu greeting of Namaste, which is accompanied by placing one’s palms together, fingers pointed upwards and drawing the hands to the heart.
  • Fist bump: While this one does involve contact, the chances of picking up something scary are far less than a traditional handshake. “10 times more bacteria get exchanged in a handshake than a fist bump,” as reported by Business Insider in regard to a study in the American Journal of Infection Control. Better yet, bump elbows.

If you think there may be a risk in appropriating someone else’s culture, may we suggest the classic Vulcan salute: the hand gesture popularized by “Star Trek.”  You might even earn new friends with this gesture from the TV series, which consists of raising one’s hand, with space between the middle and ring fingers, and the index finger and the thumb.

Healthier habits for future “Hellos”

The coronavirus pandemic will pass, but don’t give up on your new go-to greeting alternatives. Other “bugs” are always out there, so practice self-care and steer clear from unnecessary contact.

Not only should you keep your handshake-free process in place, but you ought to include other measures that will ease your worries about contracting some other illness.

Hugs? Who needs ‘em? A kiss on both cheeks? Let’s not go overboard. Sure, you want to be approachable, but when you’re the one hacking up a lung, watch how fast folks “socially distance” themselves from you.

Use common sense, don’t get too close, and keep your hands clean and healthy. Hopefully, everyone else is as “on it” as you are.

Already touched? It’s not too late. Get rid of the germy greeting

Getting used to holding off on handshaking is something that will take practice. You’re bound to do it without realizing, and then you’ll reflexively recoil in revulsion.

Don’t freak out and don’t touch your face either. Simply get to a sink and wash your hands well with soap and water for 20 (count ‘em) seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if there’s no sink around.

One-touch won’t be the worst thing that can happen. But the next time someone reaches out hoping for a handshake, remember to politely decline and tell them why. You may just save someone else from picking up an illness off the next person’s “paws.”

We can do this! Community cooperation is key. Nod, bow, shake a tail feather, whatever. Just don’t exchange handshakes in return for something regrettable.

If you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or have serious concerns about infection, please notify our team before visiting or use vybe’s telemedicine service to see a doctor online. If you are not experiencing symptoms, stay home and continue social distancing.