“Can I get a hug?”
It’s a simple question for a simple act that’s been especially missed because of COVID-19 distancing. “Human beings need social contact,” says Dr. Eugene Beresin, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “We are not hermits. We are not solo pilots. We are pack animals.” Not that it needs more promotion, but along with feeling connected, a hug has been shown to help fight off a cold and help your mood when dealing with conflict.
But even as restrictions have started to loosen, there are no clear-cut answers on personal interactions between adults. Dr. Todd Ellerin is director of infectious diseases and vice chairman of the department of medicine at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. He doesn’t recommend against giving a hug, but he’s also not giving it the green light.
The reality, he says, is there are no safety guarantees, just as it’s not, “You hug, you get the virus — it’s not that simple.” Like with all coronavirus issues, it’s about individuals making their own assessments about risk.
With a hug, it’s not the act itself that’s worrisome, but everything that comes with it. “It’s where you are and how close you’ll be standing. It’s what you’ll be doing before and after. The hug is not an isolated event.” Ellerin offers three factors to consider in order to determine whether it’s a safe choice for you.
People. Who’s involved? The more people who you’re going to hug, the higher the risk. The health of you and the others involved also matters. It’s not only whether someone has coronavirus symptoms, but anything that would compromise the immune system, like cancer, obesity, heart disease. And age is still a factor. People over 60 years old, even if healthy, are more vulnerable.
Place. Where would it happen? Outside is preferable, and lower risk than indoors.
Space. How close will you be after the hug? The six-foot zone — the approximate distance a droplet travels before it falls — is still a good prescription. And proximity can be an overlooked factor, since there’s the tendency to remain close and talk, and hugs often come with kissing. You’re certainly able to exchange words when you have a mask on. You just shouldn’t. Masks work, but they’re not perfect, so, in order to minimize the risk if you choose to hug, when you’re in close, you shouldn’t talk.
So what’s the ideal hug?
Ellerin says that it needs to be mutual, discussed, and pretty much planned. This is not the time for surprise or spontaneous shows of affectio