Dr. Anthony Fauci stated in a Wall Street Journal podcast in April that in the interest of public health, it’s time to end the custom of shaking hands.
“I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again…. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease — it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country,” said Fauci, considered the nation’s top infectious disease expert and recently named chief medical advisor to President-elect Joe Biden.
Similar views were shared by a North Carolina newspaper publisher during the throes of the 1918-19 flu pandemic.
“Let’s quit shaking hands. It is a filthy and abominable habit from the barbaric past… Having served its day and purposes it ought to be relegated to oblivion,” wrote W.O. Saunders in his Elizabeth City Independent.
Saunders may have been referencing the belief that handshaking began in the 5th century B.C. in Greece, when it was a symbol of peace and showed that neither person held a weapon. During the Roman era, a handshake meant grabbing each other’s forearms to check that neither had a knife hidden up a sleeve. Some say that in Medieval Europe, knights shook hands to dislodge any unseen weapons.
Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group, has been a vocal opponent of handshakes for decades.
Poland said that when you shake another person’s hand, you have no idea what that hand has touched nor when it was washed. He said that when two people shake hands, ironically they’re wielding weapons against each other in the form of viruses and bacteria instead of checking to see if either has a knife.
Although people in some other countries have learned to greet one another without touching, it will be a long time before handshakes become socially unacceptable in this culture. This is especially true considering the animosity toward face masks and other public health guidance in the current toxic political environment.
It more likely to occur in the corporate business world.
Elbow bumps and to a lesser extent fist bumps emerged in the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic, but there are many other alternatives to shaking hands if they come to be needed long-term.
Poland recommended bowing the head or tipping a hat to greet others as Americans did many decades ago, but far fewer people wear hats now. In many Asian countries, people bow to each other while positioning their hands in different ways when greeting.
A nod can be an effective greeting, but it may be too subtle for some situations. This shortened form of bowing is popular among motorists, especially in pickups, in the rural South,
Two people taping feet when meeting, dubbed the “Wuhan Shake,” reportedly originated in China during the pandemic.
Tibetans are known to stick out their tongues as a way of welcoming people. The Maori in New Zealand greet each other by touching noses, Ethiopian men touch shoulders and male friends touch foreheads in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but these aren’t much better health-wise than shaking hands.
Some sort of salute is appealing.
Perhaps Leonard Nimoy’s “live long and prosper” Vulcan salute while portraying “Spock” on the 1960s TV series, “Star Trek,” is the answer.