In the new age of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the concept to keep in mind is “social distancing” — which should put a pause on the old-fashioned handshake and friendly hug. Instead, say hello with an elbow bump — the safer way to physically greet somebody who is healthy — for now.
Instead of handshakes, high-fives or even fist bumps, the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, M.D., recently introduced the elbow bump at a news conference in Connecticut as a possible alternative to avoid the coronavirus. “We should probably rethink the handshake for a while,” Dr. Adams told reporters.
That sentiment was echoed by Baptist Health experts at a panel discussion on Resource Live about COVID-19.
“This is not the time for shaking hands,” said Aileen Marty, M.D., professor, Infectious Diseases, at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine during the panel discussion.
Indeed, the term “social distancing” — referring to keeping a physical distance from each other to avoid the further spread of COVID-19 — is reverberating across society, including workplaces, schools, churches, medical facilities, airports, sporting events and any public place where large crowds gather.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging older adults and anyone with underlying health issues to “avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.”
A Distance of At Least Six Feet
But even an elbow bump may not be all that safe if one of the greeters is having symptoms associated with COVID-19 — a fever, cough and mild to severe respiratory distress, including shortness of breath. A safe distance from someone who is sick should be at least six feet, according to the CDC.
Health officials say the coronavirus spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, which is similar to how the flu spreads. Older adults with underlying health issues, such as diabetes and heart, lung and kidney disease, are most at high risk for serious complications, potentially deadly, complications from COVID-19.
“Let’s not greet ourselves with the nice and friendly ways like we usually do,” says Dr. Marty. “But let’s have a little bit of social distance and find an appropriate way of expressing your affection without having those hugs and handshakes. That’s fundamental.”
Social distancing is just one aspect of infection protection. The other big hone is hygiene, with proper handwashing at the top of the list.
Proper handwashing involves using soap and water to thoroughly wash your hands for 20 seconds. Avoid touching any part of your face, eyes, nose, or mouth. And keep in mind that viruses can live for several hours on hard surfaces such as cafeteria and restaurant tables, telephone receivers, computer keyboards and doorknobs.
“You absolutely want to do hand hygiene,” stresses Dr. Marty. “I’m talking about an appropriate handwashing. It’s not just about time (20 seconds or more), but also getting at the fingernails, and by doing this you get the virus out from underneath, paying attention to each individual digit and paying attention to the wrists. And then dry your hands properly, preferably with a paper towel.”
Dr. Marty and public health officials also emphasize staying healthy and stress-free to keep your immune system at its most efficient for fighting infections.
“Give your body the best shot at having a low risk from this infection — and that involves doing those things that enhance your immune system,” says Dr. Marty. “Get a good night’s sleep. That’s very refreshing for your immune system — that means seven or eight hours if you can manage it.
“Eat healthy nutritious foods in a balanced way. And, of course, exercise. If you can go to the gym, go to the gym. If you can’t, go for a run or brisk walk, or at least walk up the stairs if your knees are in good shape … get at least your 10,000 steps a day. Those are good fundamental things that can enhance your immune system.”
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