Will the coronavirus eradicate the handshake forever?

will people stop shaking hands coronavirus
Photo via Flazingo Photos/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)
  • Health experts warn that it’s unsafe to shake hands during the pandemic
  • Handshakes have been used for thousands of years
  • Communication experts don’t expect people to stop in the future

While the coronavirus has dialed back physical greetings, like the handshake, experts say it’s unlikely that people are going to leave behind the custom that goes back thousands of years

When the coronavirus began its rampage across the globe in January, health experts quickly announced that people should not be shaking hands while greeting. That’s because physical contact is one of the easiest ways to spread the virus. In fact, Anthony Fauci, the face of the U.S. White House response, said he thought that people should not “shake hands ever again.” 

However, just because health professionals wish it so doesn’t mean that we’ll stop seeing it in day-to-day life. Communication experts say that despite the health risks, it’s not likely that people will drop the handshake anytime soon. 

“There is something about physical touch that conveys warmness and intimacy with people, and a handshake is the least invasive form of physical touch, you might say,” Greg Stewart, a University of Iowa professor of management and entrepreneurship, told USA Today. “Obviously over the centuries, it’s been an enduring practice.”

People have been shaking hands for years as a way to avoid uncomfortable greetings, to build trust, and to show respect. In addition, physical touches aren’t merely a formality for some ethnic groups, such as Latinos. The traditional greeting for Latinos is a hug or a kiss. It’s such an established part of Latino culture that in some countries, like Mexico, not even the coronavirus could dissuade people from continuing to physically greet each other. 

Health experts have suggested replacements to the greeting, such as elbow bumps or foot shakes. But with physical touch–through handshakes, hugs, and kisses–so deeply ingrained in people’s cultural customs and daily lives, communication experts say they don’t think people would willingly leave it behind. 

Sources: Washington Post, USA Today, Reuters

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