According to Harvard scientists, this is the safest way to hug someone during a pandemic

Vaccinology being the complicated discipline that it is, means social distancing will likely define the majority of human to human interaction for the next couple of years.

Shutdown easing has caused some states within the US to experience surges in coronavirus transmissions. In light of this, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their social practices guidelines:

  • Avoid large crowds.
  • Work from home whenever possible.
  • Close schools and provide education online.
  • Cancel large meetings and conferences.
  • Give up our weekly social meetings at coffee shops, restaurants, church groups and even Friday fish fry.
  • Stay home.

Valuable insights, but restricted intimacy is bound to yield adverse physiological effects overtime. 

“For extroverts who thrive on social contact, this might seem like some Orwellian control measure designed for torture. For introverts, it may not initially feel much different than a normal day,” licensed professional counselor in Behavioral Health, Jennifer Wickha explained. “However, over time, everyone needs a varying amount of real social contact to maintain his or her mental and physical health. As we adjust to social distancing strategies, we may need to be more creative to meet our need for social connection.”

So far, the elbow bump is leading the pack of greeting alternatives, but can we be overly cautious? It depends on the scenarios. 

While indoors, every relevant caution needs to be considered. SARS-CoV-2 is the most stable in cooler temperatures and can remain active in suspended aerosols for up to three hours and for several days atop certain surfaces.

It might be advisable to stick with a couple of finger guns, a salute, or an elbow bump while occupying confined spaces.

While outdoors, three elements dictate the risks associated with physical contact: People, space, and place.

Disproportionately affected individuals like the elderly, the immune-compromised, and individuals with preexisting conditions are advised to avoid clusters and high-risk scenarios if they can. 

Even otherwise healthy populations need to be mindful of the guidelines established by The CDC, developed in conjunction with various global health systems. 

If this pandemic is going to outpace clinical countermeasures we’ll have to consider alternatives to maintaining a sense of community with our peers. 

“Human beings need social contact,” says Dr. Eugene Beresin, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “We are not hermits. We are not solo pilots. We are pack animals.”

Before the initiation of a hug, make sure that you and the receiver begin six feet apart from each other.

Before approaching one another make sure that you are both masked and looking in opposite directions upon impact to limit viral debris produced by coughing, sneezing, and dialogue. Once the hug is over,  both parties should back away to at least six feet. If any fluids were made contact on either (tears, saliva, mucus), be sure to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Dr. Todd Ellerin,  director of infectious diseases and vice chairman of the department of medicine at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts, is also an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Ellerin is apprehensive about assigning an approximate risk to physical greetings because of all of the variables that affect the equation. 

“It’s not, you hug, you get the virus. It’s not that simple,” Dr. Ellerin explained in Harvard Health publishing. You need to be scientific about this, but it’s hard to be scientific about people you love. We’re not robots. The hug is not an isolated event. It’s where you are and how close you’ll be standing. It’s what you’ll be doing before and after.