Handshake vs. Fist Bump: How Should You Greet People Amidst COVID-19?

This is another line of defense against spreading the virus.

UPDATE: March 25, 2020 - The CDC has stated that COVID-19 can pass between persons who are less than 6 feet apart for prolonged periods of time. It's now recommended by many state officials to remain 6 feet apart at all times while practicing social distancing.

EARLIER: People have been shaking hands since the 5th century B.C. In its first recorded usage, shaking hands was seen as a peace offering — if you were offering your hand to someone, it was proof you didn’t have a weapon in it. Though times have certainly changed since then, handshaking remains an acceptable form of greeting throughout the United States. Every day on The Dr. Oz Show, I shake hands with my guests as a way of not only making them feel comfortable, but as a sign of respect. At NYP/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where I perform heart surgeries, I shake hands with my patients and their families to introduce myself and help ease their nerves.

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But since the novel coronavirus outbreak has made its way to the U.S., I’ve stopped shaking hands at the hospital, and on my show, and when I’m introduced to new people. Around 80% of people who have the virus don’t have symptoms or only mild symptoms, so you never know for sure. Since the outbreak started, people have been asking me what I think of it and my advice hasn’t changed: wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and stay home if you feel sick. But another thing you can do now is stop high-fiving and shaking hands so much. What can you do instead? I suggest a fist bump.

Sure, a fist bump without warning might be a total dad move, but I’m a dad of four, so I’m leaning into it. Plus, there’s science that backs up why this is effective in reducing the spread of harmful germs and bacteria.

According to the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC), a handshake transfers two times as much bacteria as a high-five and up to 10 times as much bacteria as a fist bump. The 2014 AJIC study found that this is likely because a handshake lasts seconds longer than a fist bump. But even when the fist bump touching time was prolonged in the study, the amount of bacteria transmitted person-to-person was still less than high-fives and handshakes. Even more, the space of your hand that makes contact with another person is increased in a stronger handshake as compared to a weaker one. The study points out that “in the United States alone, community-acquired pneumonia causes around 60,000 deaths annually, with an estimated annual economic cost of $17 billion,” so a no-contact greeting can actually significantly reduce these numbers.

But of course, we’re talking about this now because of the COVID-19 spread currently making its way around our globe. As of Mar. 17, 2020, COVID-19 has spread to 167 countries with over 349,000 cases confirmed world wide. There are 35,224 confirmed cases in the U.S. The elderly and those already dealing with respiratory illnesses or poor health are most at risk, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think it’s time to panic. I think it’s time to prioritize your health. Cancel the handshake and bring back the fist bump. Your health will be better for it.

Here are some other things that I suggest to better prepare for the novel coronavirus. Share it with your family and friends:


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