As I began to write this article, an email informed me that a person in our building had tested positive for the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. As the building’s crew begins a deep clean, it’s concerning to realize how close to home this virus is hitting.

We know we should be washing our hands as often we can, and generally avoiding the human race if at all possible. But what happens when something arises say, like, your job? Many of us are still going to work every day, talking to co-workers, and perhaps meeting clients. Shaking hands may feel inevitable.

According to research from the University of Colorado, on average we carry 3,200 bacteria from 150 different species on our hands and, at a time like this, we can’t be too careful. But how can we refuse a handshake without seeming rude? As a British person I would rather die than have anyone think I have bad manners. But with this global health crisis upon us, it may be time to break with convention.

It’s not you, it’s me

One way you can avoid a handshake without seeming rude is to shift the blame onto yourself. If someone reaches their hand out for you to shake, throw your hands up in a surrendering motion. “Sorry, I’m a bit of a germaphobe at the moment, I hope you don’t mind?” You might also state that you aren’t shaking any hands at the moment, not just theirs. This way the blame for the awkwardness is placed on you and it’s made clear that it’s not a rejection of them personally.

Another idea is to again lay the blame at your feet. “I am just getting over a cold and I don’t want to get you sick.” The added bonus here is, if they think you are unwell, they will give you a wide berth in general.

If it’s your company, you can send out an all-staff email to employees and clients to brief them on the temporary halting of handshaking as a policy. This way people are prepared to walk into a room and not be greeted by a handshake.

Footshake?

“Shaking hands transmitted two times more bacteria than high fives, and 10 times more bacteria than bumping fists.”
–Harvard Medical School

In China, bumping feet has been dubbed the “Wuhan shake,” named after the city at the epicenter of the virus outbreak, with videos of the greeting going viral. People are also suggesting fist bumps, as according to Harvard Medical School: “Shaking hands transmitted two times more bacteria than high fives, and 10 times more bacteria than bumping fists.” While these forms of greetings may be OK with friends, it doesn’t exactly give off the most professional vibe.

Elbow bump?

Another greeting gaining traction is the elbow bump.

Like most things in life, honesty is the best policy. Everyone is likely to be aware that hygiene needs to be a priority right now, so simply tell the person what you need. Taking care of your own health is allowed. It doesn’t make you an ill-mannered person. Better to be safe than sorry.

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