When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in 2020, many public health experts wondered if it would mean the end of the handshake as we know it. The concept of shaking hands soon became a nonstarter, as people were encouraged to thoroughly wash and sanitize after coming into contact with potentially contaminated outside surfaces and objects. At the time, it was not safe to shake hands.
But now, with tens of millions of people becoming inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines across the country, some wonder if it may be safe to resume the millennials-old practice.
The CDC recently updated its guidelines that fully vaccinated people can safely gather indoors without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart, and generally speaking, you don’t need to wear one if you’re outside. The agency also states that vaccinated people may now even visit unvaccinated people from one household who are not at risk for severe illness without a mask. Theoretically, that means that it also should be safe to hug your loved ones, but the position on whether to shake hands remains murky.
Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease specialist and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, told VerywellHealth that “in public or when you’re greeting someone at work, it’s best to continue to avoid shaking hands.”
“People should be practicing social distancing, so obviously, to shake someone’s hand, you need to be closer than six feet,” said Watkins. “The same is true for hugs and kisses on the cheek given to people outside your household.”
“If both you and the person you’re greeting are vaccinated, the risk of spreading COVID-19 is probably low, but not zero,” Watkins continued, adding that people should make their own decisions about how much risk they are willing to take.
Watkins ultimately conceded that handshakes, hugs, and kisses would likely only truly be safe again “after everyone is vaccinated and society reaches herd immunity.”
If Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has his way, however, the practice of shaking hands should become obsolete even after the pandemic is over.
“When you gradually come back, you don’t jump into it with both feet,” Fauci told The Journal podcast in April 2020 when asked how soon the United States could return to pre-pandemic life. “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,” he later reiterated. “Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”
After you get the vaccine, is it safe to …
- Attend a wedding?
- Go to a movie theater?
- Party in Las Vegas?
- Hug your grandchildren?
- Go to a restaurant?
- Go to the gym?
- Go to the dentist?
- Visit your family?