Foot bumping, waving and bowing: How to avoid shaking hands amid coronavirus fears

Kerry Justich
·4 mins read
People are suggesting handshake alternatives in order to lessen the threat of coronavirus. (Photo: Twitter/NUS)
People are suggesting handshake alternatives in order to lessen the threat of coronavirus. (Photo: Twitter/NUS)

People are amping up precautions, and even their creativity, as coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to gain traction across the globe. Now, some are even suggesting ways to greet one another without making physical contact in an effort to avoid spreading germs unnecessarily.

The conversation taking place on social media started when people in high-risk countries, including China and Iran, began to post videos of groups of people foot-bumping to introduce the idea of a new type of greeting amid coronavirus fears.

Since officials in foreign countries have discouraged or even banned kissing or shaking hands as a way of greeting, people have taken the suggestion more seriously.

The National University of Singapore, in particular, created an infographic that has since been widely shared, showing four types of “handshake alternatives” amid the outbreak of COVID-19. Sylvie Briand, MD, PhD, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director of pandemics even endorsed the greetings by sharing them on her own Twitter account. “We need to adapt to this new disease,” she wrote.

Politicians around the world have taken note of the risks that may come from handshakes and hugs — as evidenced by a German politician who rejected a handshake from Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday — while leaders in the U.S. have done the same. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts took to social media to share the way that he greeted guests after visiting the University of Nebraska's National Quarantine Unit in Omaha on Monday.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, later suggested putting a hand over your heart while simply smiling or nodding to the person you are greeting.

Religious institutions have even begun to implement a hands-off policy during group meetings or services, asking that congregants greet each other verbally rather than hugging or shaking hands. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked members worldwide to follow the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations. A Jewish synagogue in New York City suggested that congregants live stream services on Facebook if they’re feeling unwell.

Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that it’s completely acceptable to not shake someone’s hand, although it’s important to explain the rationale behind the move.

“We have to begin to verbalize more,” she says. “Typically a handshake was a way of showing a warm greeting, or a hug or a kiss was the way to show a greeting. But now, we have to number one, use one of my core values of etiquette, which is honesty. It’s respect, honesty and consideration. So the respect factor is, of course, respecting someone’s health, but then the honesty to say, ‘You know because of everything that’s going on, I’m not gonna shake hands. But it’s very nice to meet you.’ Here in the United States, we don’t typically bow, but what we can do is just nod our head to greet somebody.”

Still, Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Lifestyle he isn’t sure the push toward contactless greetings is presently necessary.

“I think it’s fine to promote handshake alternatives, however, if people practice good hand hygiene, even a handshake is fine. I myself, even as an infectious disease physician, would prefer a handshake to a foot bump,” he said.

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