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‘Hugs not drugs’ now looms as lethal advice in the era of social distancing
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

Do not feel the need to elbow bump me.

I am not suffering from the lack of people who are prone to extend greetings by hugging you or even shaking hands.

The elbow bump started just after social distancing became one of the catch phrases of the coronavirus pandemic. I was a bit stunned when the first person tried to elbow bump me because shaking hands in the current situation is deemed highly inappropriate as it can spread the virus. It took me a second to register what was going on after I initially maneuvered to get out of the way causing their elbow to jab me slightly in the side.

I’m not too sure what it may have looked like, but I don’t think potentially giving someone sore ribs or an overzealous connection with elbows that could wakeup the funny bone with its joyous message of a tingly prickly pain is a great way to greet someone.

I understand that the need to cease any physical social contact that evolves around shaking hands or hugging when meeting acquaintances or strangers is making some feel as if they are the “boy in the bubble.”

They should, however, really turn the tables. There are more than a few people who have an aversion of being hugged by people who aren’t close to them.

Some think this is being a bit standoffish.

Years ago when Emmanuel Serriere – an immigrant from France who was the executive director of Manteca CAPS – shared a complaint about how some of the people who dropped by a senior center were reacting to the fact that some of the non-profit’s clients were put into the mix.

Specifically, he did not like how some of the other seniors would pull away or react adversely when one of his clients went to hug them. Emmanuel assumed it was because his clients were developmentally disabled.

I offered another viable explanation that some people don’t like being touched, especially when they aren’t expecting it. He still thought that was just covering for what he perceived was their bias against developmentally disabled folks.

I told him based on some extremely unpleasant things that happened to me when I was a young kid, I was one of those people who can become extremely uncomfortable when someone hugged me unexpectedly – stranger or not. I even said in rare cases such as when someone has jostled me out of a deep sleep when I’m somewhere other than at home I abruptly come awake swinging. Emmanuel’s answer? He told me people have to get over it.

I couldn’t agree more. But in some cases, it is easier said than done.

If nothing else comes out of social distancing and acting as if at any minute we can pick up a germ that may not even get past the front door of our immune system but we could pass onto someone who could get sick or even die, is the fact we have a social obligation not to make ourselves the center of the universe as the world will be a lot better.

There is no need to go completely hands off but at the same time there is no need to treat others as if they are drug babies and everything will be better with hugs to sharpen the sense of human contact.

And it certainly applies to the cavalier attitude most of us seem to have had toward others in regards to the potential spread of germs before our daily vocabulary included words such as “coronavirus,” “pandemic,” and “social distancing.”

I need to make it clear I am not a germaphobe. I pretty much ignore the three-second rule which is pretty ridiculous standard given everything has germs on it to begin with and the second something touches another surface more germs attach themselves.

The best example of my attitude was when I dropped a bunch of trail mix eight miles from nowhere hiking up a canyon in Death Valley with my nephew. As I started picking it up and moving it to my mouth he asked, “you aren’t going to eat that?” My retort was “Do you see a 7-Eleven close by?”

I clearly have been blessed with good DNA and I like to think I am doing a fairly good effort at working on keeping my immune system strong via diet and exercise, although I’m sure I could do a lot better. While I rarely get sick, I am well aware that is not the case with everyone.

Given I have a close friend  – one that I feel blessed to have – with a compromised immune system, over the years I have become more aware of things that I wouldn’t otherwise give a second thought.

One time we had stopped at a Taco Bell because we didn’t have enough time to grab a “real” meal and still make a play at the Stockton Civic Theatre. The counter person was sniffling while waiting on the customer ahead of us. Just as we stepped up, she used the back of her hand to wipe it across her nose.

My friend calmly asked the cashier if she was going to wash her hands before waiting on us. That elicited a “huh?” response, a repeat inquiry and then a “whatever” as the counter person shuffled off to wash her hands.

Today if someone did that, they’d be the posting of smartphone videos within seconds, a million viewers in minutes and a demand that the fast food firm either fire the employee or be subject to a national boycott within hours.

You could argue our lackadaisical attitude toward basic hygiene practices in public have probably contributed to as many deaths over the years when it comes to the body count from accumulative flu seasons than in a typical pandemic.

After all we may think we’re young, invincible or healthy so what’s the big deal?

It is why you see signs in restrooms of fast food places and even restaurants advising employees to wash their hands. This would not be needed if everyone obviously was thinking all the time and was tuned into the fact hands are one of the most effective way of transmitting germs.

The big question is what do we do when the pandemic subsides? Do we go back to business as usual shaking hands, not practicing some form of social distancing or not sanitize our businesses to such a point that everyone is aware of it?

Is extra caution only just recommended or in many cases mandated during a pandemic and deemed not necessary during a flu season such as 2018 when almost 60,000 people in the United States died from the flu?

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.