Here's When It'll Be Safe to Shake Hands Again

With coronavirus still rampant, you might want to think of a new way to greet people.

Shaking hands has been the go-to when it comes to polite greetings since time immemorial: It's more familiar than a nod, but rarely leaves people as uncomfortable as they might feel if a hug were foisted on them by a stranger. However, with concerns about person-to-person coronavirus transmission on everyone's minds, many people are left wondering when—if ever—it will be safe to shake hands again.

In the eyes of many medical professionals, the practice has never been a great idea, even pre-pandemic. "Shaking hands has always been a negative when it comes to germs, viruses, and bacteria being transferred," explains Enchanta Jenkins, MD, MHA.

According to Robert Gomez, MPH, an epidemiologist and COVID-19 expert at Parenting Pod, even if a cure for coronavirus becomes available, it's still too risky to get those handshakes going again. Until a vaccine is available and its use is widespread, you can't have much confidence that shaking hands won't transfer virus-laden respiratory droplets onto your skin and get you sick.

"Shaking hands when we only have treatment or herd immunity would not be as safe [as waiting for a vaccine] and will still pose a risk, especially for individuals who belong to a high-risk population," he explains. Gomez notes that avoiding handshakes is especially important as states begin to reopen, as many people may still have the virus and not know it, whether they're in the early stages of infection or are asymptomatic carriers.

two people shaking hands while wearing gloves

If there's absolutely no way of getting around that handshake, however, there are some steps you can take to stay safe.

"If you must shake hands with someone, you should clean and sanitize your hands before and after the handshake," says Gomez, who notes that using gloves during a handshake can also work. However, this would require both participants to wash their hands before the handshake, don gloves that have been kept in a sealed bag, shake, and then immediately throw away the gloves before touching their face or any surfaces.

In the meantime, until a vaccine is available, Gomez says that an elbow bump is a good alternative—but still shouldn't be done if social distancing recommendations are in place. Until you can safely gather together again, Jenkins recommends "respecting each other [with] words and smiles" from a distance. And once stay-at-home orders start being lifted, make sure you know these 7 Ways to See Your Friends Safely As Lockdown Ends.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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