Is it time to stop handshaking for good?

Dr. Anthony Fauci is the leading infectious disease expert in the US and has been leading the charge against the coronavirus.

When he speaks, people listen (including myself).

One common question that he’s been asked recently is what the return to normal will look like after we are able to let up on social distancing and when will that return happen.

He’s been pretty conservative with his estimations over the past few weeks — more of a realist— which is why he’s gained so much respect from the American public.

He also has strayed away from giving specifics when it comes to timelines.

However, he recently stated that he believes we’ll start to see light at the end of the tunnel by the end of April.

Personally, I believe we’re already seeing glimmers of that light and that we’ll really start to see it by another 10 days or so.

But Fauci also said something else that has a lot of people listening and it has to do with personal contact that we’ve all been accustomed to for years.

Dr. Fauci said: “When you gradually come back, you don’t jump into it with both feet. You say what are the things you could still do and still approach normal. One of them is absolute compulsive hand washing. The other is you don’t ever shake anybody’s hands.”

I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”

He’s not the only official to suggest that hand shaking might be a thing of the past in the future and it’s an interesting thought.

I fully believe that refraining from hand shakes could have a substantial effect on reducing transmission of all sorts of pathogens.

But there are a couple of major questions.

First, what about all of these other forms of contact?

Touching door knobs, counters, handles, chairs, etc. Would touching an infected door handle be virtually the same as touching an infected palm of the hand? Wouldn’t it all just come down to adequate hand washing?

The other question is what would replace handshaking?

It seems we humans have a deep longing/need for some type of physical gesture that helps us get a feel for other individuals in social settings and that without one, greetings and interactions would be missing something integral.

Many of you have probably traveled to countries like Thailand where they have other customs such as subtle bowing that don’t require physical contact.

But I can’t see us doing something like that in the US. Maybe fist bumps could be more sanitary than open palms since people don’t usually touch their face with the outside of their fists?

There’s also something to be said about the traditions of greetings, however risky they might be.

There are places like Italy where the traditional greeting is an up close cheek kiss, which is probably much more risky than a handshake in terms of spreading a respiratory disease.

But could you imagine an Italian society without such a greeting that dates back to at least the Romans?

The right answer may just be less touching and more extensive hand washing.

But I’ve also read experts who declare that extensive hand washing could be detrimental since we’ll be killing off so many helpful bacteria.

According to Harvard Medical School, “Frequent hand washing, even with mild soap, can damage skin, worsening cuts and causing cracks that can harbor even more bacteria.”

I wonder about the long-term consequences of the insane amount of hand washing that has been going on the past few months. My non-expert thoughts: it has to be throwing something out of balance that’s not necessarily 100% beneficial.

So I’m not sure there’s a clear path as to what our future normal will look like.

I’m sure people will be more hesitant to touch objects unnecessarily which I think is a good thing. And others may be more likely to wear face coverings when sick. Those are all good things.

But before we go trying to re-write customs and norms that have been with us for centuries, I think we need to step back and realize that this is a once per 100 year event that will soon have a vaccine.

Sure we should learn our lessons from it and make changes. But those changes should not be be knee-jerk and should be responsive to the issue at hand. They should also be realistic.

Reduced physical contact sounds like a good plan but if people start trying to rid the world of handshaking for good, it sounds a bit like an overreaction.

I’m not the expert here so I’ll always defer to them but I also know that experts don’t always know all the answers. Sometimes us humans just instinctively know what’s best.


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