The future of handshakes: Will the traditional greeting return post-pandemic?

Health officials have discouraged physical contact including handshakes to lower the spread of COVID-19.
Published: May. 5, 2021 at 5:55 PM CDT|Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 6:09 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As COVID-19 restrictions loosen, more people get vaccinated, and in-person gatherings pick up, is it still appropriate to greet by shaking hands?

Handshaking has been a traditional form of greeting for centuries but since the pandemic, health officials have discouraged physical contact including handshakes.

NBC15 spoke to some Madison residents out and about Wednesday who say they’d like to see handshaking fade away.

Kes Allen said there are better ways to greet people and waving is a better option. Jane Sherwood agreed and said not shaking hands helps cut down on germs spreading.

Others told NBC15 they hope handshaking returns to the norm it was pre-pandemic.

UW-Health’s Dr. Nasia Safdar says we shouldn’t be in a rush to make that happen as the risk of transmitting viruses is still there. “In general...a lot of things get transferred from person to person via the hands,” she said.

Dr. Safdar says it’s not the hand contact itself that’s the issue, it’s what we do with our hands after. “You shake somebody’s hand and immediately touch your face hair and nose and that’s all it takes,” said Safdar.

Despite the health concern, handshaking has historical and cultural meaning. Etiquette expert and CEO of The Polite Society, Jessica Lieffring says the handshake has evolved and remains a gesture of good will and respect.

“It’s been around since medieval times. It was how two men would greet each other to show they were unarmed,” said Lieffring.

As American venture out, many fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Lieffring says we’re not ready to ditch the age old tradition just yet.

Classic handshake greeting
Classic handshake greeting(KOSA)

“I think it’s definitely going to come back but people are going to be more aware and may discreetly sanitize after,” she said.

For those who still don’t feel comfortable shaking hands, there are other options that allow you to be polite within your comfort zone. Lieffring suggests the classic “namaste” greeting, putting both your hands together and bowing. When in doubt, a traditional hand to heart with a smile and eye contact also does the trick.

Lieffring says these options are more personal than a fist or foot tap. If someone does reach out there hand to shake yours, she says it’s better to shake their hand and just immediately sanitize or wash your hands after.

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