NOTE: This commentary was published before the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the Ohio and Gov Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency and opened the Emergency Operations Center.
Confession: I hugged what felt like 100 people at a party this week.
We didn’t bump fists.
We didn’t shake hands.
>> UPDATE: (March 10, 2020) Gov. DeWine on coronavirus: Now is time to slow the spread, save lives
We didn’t high five the way the NBA is recommending its players do in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus.
I am not a natural hugger.
But the hugging flood gates were opened last summer when a young man killed nine innocent people two blocks from my home in the Oregon District.
A stream of souls — friends, strangers, people who fall in the cracks between the two extremes — hugged me that day and the days that followed.
We shared sorrow and resolve, love, fear and pain.
The simple hugs helped my head and my heart.
The very first recommendation on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus Disease page is to “avoid close contact with people who are sick.”
That recommendation makes complete sense as do the others:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
There is nothing there about hugging, but clearly people are concerned about the risk.
I spent what felt like 10 minutes in the ladies’ room of a local movie theater exchanging light-hearted “jokes” about the very subject.
“We aren’t supposed to hug anymore. Fist bump,” one of the ladies in line said.
We fist-bumped, laughed and bantered about hand washing.
The coronavirus is a scary thing, especially for the elderly and the sick.
Another scary proposition is a world where people are afraid of human-to-human contact.
It is already happening to a certain extent. Technology, for all of its positives, makes communicating without touching each other so easy.
There are tons of studies about the impact of touch, including a 2017 study from Swedish researchers that found there are calming effects of hugging and patting children in distress.
Another study found that holding the arm of the partner experiencing physical pains triggers a reward-related region of the giver’s brain.
There’s no doubt that we all have to be careful.
With diligence, deaths due to the coronavirus will be minimal.
In the process, let’s not forget or forsake the power of a hug to greet and express support, friendship, gratitude and genuine love.
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