The Safest Ways to Hug During a Pandemic

While the U.S. is lifting restrictions, we are still being urged to socially distance. Older people and people with underlying health conditions have to stay away from people. For many of us, the hardest part is staying away from our families. We miss hugs. Now, an expert has explained guidelines for safer hugs.

We’ve all seen the heartwarming videos of people who have made hug guards to touch their loved ones. And grandparents have made their own hazmat suits for cuddling grandchildren. Physical contact is vital as it creates comfort. There are actual studies about the power of hugs. They boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, aid sleep and improve concentration.

Social distancing inhibits touch, especially for single individuals living alone,” said Natalie Mica, a licensed professional counselor, and integrative functional health coach. “At a time when we need the immune system the most, we are being asked to distance ourselves from each other, causing us to disengage from a major immune booster and a valuable form of communication.”

With the necessity of social distancing due to COVID-19,” said mental health adviser Tom Kearns, “the fear is our already distant and less tactile society will regress, and overall health, well-being and feeling about the world and others will decrease, potentially leading to increased depression, sadness and isolation.”

Humans have brain pathways that are specifically dedicated to detecting affectionate touch,” says Johannes Eichstaedt, a computational social scientist and professor at Stanford Univ. “Affectionate touch is how our biological systems communicate to one another that we are safe, that we are loved and that we are not alone.”

While we fully understand the need to stay away from each other, it’s been months since we embraced our families. That is why we are so grateful that one expert thought about the safest ways for us to hug each other. While it’s still not the most harmless activities we could participate in, it’s better to hug someone using the safety guidelines than to just normally embrace.  

Linsey Marr is an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech and one of the leading experts on airborne disease transmission. The New York times asked her for tips, based on science, on how to hug and stay COVID-19-free. Dr. Marr says that the risk of infection can be low if we follow some safety guidelines.  

We don’t know how many [particles of]  infectious viruses it takes to make you sick — probably more than one,” said Dr. Marr. “If you don’t talk or cough while hugging, the risk should be very low.”

Her advice is simple: wear a mask, don’t speak, hug outside, keep it brief and don’t rest your face on someone’s skin or clothes. After embracing, you should move six feet away from the other person. And wash your hands afterward. Do not face each other directly, turn your head when you hug, so you aren’t breathing in each other’s faces. You can kiss a child on the back of the head while wearing a mask if they are faced away from you. If possible, hold your breath.
 
One final piece of advice is to not hug people willy-nilly. Just because this is safer doesn’t mean it is safe to embrace all your friends. “I would hug close friends, but I would skip more casual hugs,” Dr. Marr said. “I would take the Marie Kondo approach — the hug has to spark joy.”

Armed with this advice, you can hug your loved ones feeling relatively safe. The benefits of hugging cannot be stressed enough. So, if you and your loved ones appear to be healthy, you can hug. Just be careful about it!
June 08, 2020
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