The coronavirus pandemic has been going on for months and given everything that is happening in the world right now, some of us really need some human contact. If you’re desperate for a hug from someone who doesn’t live with you, you can minimize your risk by following a few steps.
As first reported by Tara Parker-Pope for the New York Times, stories about people going to extreme lengths to get a hug from loved ones have been going viral in recent weeks for obvious reasons. Motherly reported on some of these, like the plastic hug curtain one 10-year-old invented so that she could feel her grandmother’s embrace for the first time in months.
It’s super cute, but is it necessary?
Experts suggest that you can hug (without a curtain) if you follow a few rules for harm reduction.
Back in May a poll by Morning Consult/POLITICO of nearly 2,000 Americans found most people view hugging someone you don’t live with as having a risk factor of nearly 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. The polling suggests that many people see hugging someone outside the household as a lower risk activity than going to a stadium baseball game or an outdoor cookout with 20 people.
The interesting thing here is that experts agree with popular opinion. A panel of public health experts gave hugging an average risk rating of 6.8, the American public figured it was about a 6.9.
Elizabeth Stuart, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explained it like this: “There’s increasing evidence the really high-risk interactions are when you’re in an enclosed space for more than 15 minutes with someone who is infected,” she said. “So a hug where you have masks on and wash your hands after—that might be where some of the lower-risk votes are coming from.”
Linsey Marr is an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech. A leading expert on airborne disease transmission, Marr tells the New York Times “If you don’t talk or cough while hugging, the risk should be very low.”
So how can we have a low risk (but not risk-free) hug?
Take the right precautions: Wear a mask, don’t hug in a confined area (outdoors is best), keep the hug brief and wash your hands afterward.
Don’t hug anybody who has respiratory symptoms; don’t talk, cry or cough during the hug, and don’t hug face-to-face.
University of Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon told the Chicago Sun-Times the risk is worth it for her, personally. “I think a hug or two done in a very safe way with your fabric mask on and your hands clean and after you’ve been very careful, may be okay, but I can’t promise that it’s going to be okay for everyone,” she explained. “But I can tell you that for me, it may be worth the gamble.”