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Hugs, handshakes, high-fives: How should you greet people amid the delta variant?

As cases surge across the U.S., what’s the safest way to greet people?

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Canada’s Nicholas Hoag and Canada’s Tyler Sanders hug after losing the men’s volleyball quarterfinal match.

Canada’s Nicholas Hoag, rear, and Canada’s Tyler Sanders hug after losing the men’s volleyball quarterfinal match between Canada and Russian Olympic Committee at the 2020 Summer Olympics, on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. As the U.S. faces another wave of outbreaks, mask mandates and restrictions, how should we greet each other?

Frank Augstein, Associated Press

Across the U.S., cases of — and concerns about — the COVID-19 delta variant have surged recently. New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise vaccinated people to mask up indoors in high-transmission areas. New York City announced Tuesday that proof of vaccination would be required for indoor activities, including dining and fitness, reported the Deseret News.

  • As the U.S. faces another wave of outbreaks, mask mandates and restrictions, how should we greet each other?

Is it safe to hug someone?

The riskiness of any greeting depends on the vaccination and mask status of those involved, the transmission rate in the community and the type of location, reported The Seattle Times.

  • It’s “generally considered safe for vaccinated people to hug,” wrote The New York Times.
  • Hugging is safer outside than inside or in places with poor ventilation, according to The Seattle Times.

While hugging poses a slight risk to vaccinated people, the greeting is riskier for unvaccinated people, per The Seattle Times. However, even for vaccinated people, hugging everyone is not encouraged, but hugs are understandable among family and close friends.

Is it safe to shake hands?

If it were up to Dr. Fauci, handshaking would be over. “Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country,” said the White House health adviser in April last year, per The Seattle Times.

  • However, handshaking remains a cultural norm, per The Seattle Times.

Among vaccinated people, handshakes carry only a little risk if they are followed with proper hand hygiene practices, reported The Cleveland Clinic. Similar to hugs, the greeting is riskier for unvaccinated people and between vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

  • “I think the real risk from handshaking is coming so close to another person,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, per CNN.
  • Handshaking is safer outside than inside or in places with poor ventilation, according to The Seattle Times.

Is it safe to high-five?

High-fives involve less contact than handshakes or hugs, making them a safer alternative, reported CBS News previously. Generally, high-fives spread half as many germs as handshakes.

Just like for hugs and handshakes, similar guidelines hold for high fives, reported NBC 25 News. Vaccinated people can high-five quite safely, but the greeting is riskier for unvaccinated people.

  • For unvaccinated individuals, maintaining social distance is still recommended, per The Cleveland Clinic.

What’s the safest way to greet someone right now?

Ultimately, everyone must decide for themselves what level of contact and what sort of greeting they are comfortable with, reported the Seattle Times. Asking people before hugging or shaking hands will ensure that boundaries are respected.

  • “There are no hard and fast answers” on how to safely greet people, according to The Seattle Times.
  • However, “all the mitigation efforts we used before need to be better to hold off the delta variant,” said Dr. Alex Huffman, an aerosol scientist and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Denver, per The New York Times.
  • The Tokyo Olympics banned hugs, handshakes and high-fives to curb the spread of COVID-19, reported Fast Company.

There are many low-contact or even contact-free ways to greet people. This includes fist-bumping, elbow-bumping, waving or even more creative alternatives, per CNet.

  • “If you’re vaccinated, you’ve done the most important thing for you and your family and friends to keep everyone safe,” said Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, per The New York Times.