Coronavirus

Dr. Megan Ranney: Ask for consent before you go in for that hug as pre-pandemic normal interactions return

“Don't take it personally if someone doesn't want to give you a hug or handshake, or doesn't want to take off their mask.”

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Social interactions are starting to look a lot more like they did before the coronavirus shut down the world more than a year ago. 

But even as they do, Dr. Megan Ranney, director of the Brown Lifespan Center for Digital Health, is urging individuals to consider having a quick talk with friends or acquaintances before launching right into a hug or a handshake. 

Ranney made the case in an op-ed for CNN written with Elizabeth Stuart, the associate dean for education at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

“As the light at the end of the tunnel gets closer, the possibility of pre-pandemic interactions — hugs, high fives, intimate dinners, big weddings — are tantalizingly close,” they wrote. “But it also remains frustratingly difficult to figure out what’s right, what’s safe, and what’s respectful.”

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If you are vaccinated, it is safe to go back to the pre-pandemic physical interactions, like hugs and handshakes, when spending time with other fully-vaccinated individuals.

But what makes things complicated is you are unsure of the vaccination status of those around you, they wrote. 

“If only 1 of 100,000 people in your area have Covid-19, and you’re vaccinated, the chance of you catching an infection in any given social interaction is practically zero, regardless of whether the people around you have gotten their shot,” they wrote. “The challenge here, of course, is three-fold. Most of us don’t know our community’s Covid-19 rates. Most communities’ current infection rates are still above this negligible level. And it feels strange to ask someone whether they’ve been vaccinated.”

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And even if the science says it’s safe for two vaccinated people to hug, it doesn’t mean everyone will feel comfortable going back to those interactions all at once, Ranney and Stuart stressed. 

As the world continues to open up, the two public health experts said it’s important to become comfortable with asking about the comfort level another person has with hugging or a handshake before you go right in for it. 

“Feel free to state your own preference,” they wrote. “There is no right or wrong here. Second, don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t want to give you a hug or handshake, or doesn’t want to take off their mask; you don’t know their circumstances, and it likely is not about you!”

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Also: Keep an eye on the community transmission and vaccination rates in your area. You may have to be prepared to scale back physical interactions if cases rise in your community, they said.

“Many workplaces are allowing for a gradual easing-back into in-person work routines,” Ranney and Stuart wrote. “It’s okay to ease back to physical touch, too. Letting re-emergence happen on the terms and comfort level of each person is okay.”

Read their full op-ed at CNN.

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