It is a gesture that dates to the fifth century B.C. in Greece, but if America's top coronavirus expert had his way, it would disappear altogether.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, now says that shaking hands — even after the virus subsides — should be forever abandoned.
“I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country,” Fauci said earlier this week in a podcast with the Wall Street Journal.
“As a society, just forget about shaking hands,” Fauci said in a separate interview with Sinclair Broadcasting.
More than 1.5 million people around the world have tested positive for the deadly virus, with more than 93,000 confirmed deaths. In the U.S., more than 455,000 have tested positive, and more than 16,000 have died.
COVID-19, an acute respiratory disease, is spread by people in close contact, most often through tiny droplets caused by sneezing, coughing and speaking. Face masks that cover the nose and mouth are now worn as regular attire during the global pandemic.
Shaking hands, for the past several weeks, has been cited as a health risk because the virus can live on surfaces and then be transferred by touching one's face.
But it's an ingrained part of society that is hard to shake. President Trump admitted he had a hard time abandoning the age-old custom, despite being warned about it. Even Fauci was seen shaking hands as recently as March, when he gripped the hand of Republican Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, just before addressing a Senate hearing on dangers posed by the epidemic.
A month later, Fauci said the "new normal" and recovering from the virus means a great deal of change.
"When you gradually come back, you don't jump into it with both feet," Fauci explained this week. "You say, what are the things you could still do and still approach normal? One of them is absolute compulsive hand-washing. The other is you don't ever shake anybody's hands."
The practice dates to ancient Greece, when men clasped hands to show they had no weapons. Some say it started in medieval Europe, when knights shook hands to show they had nothing up their armored sleeves.
Across the world, greeting gestures evolved over the centuries into cultural practices.
Among Maori tribe people in New Zealand, people greeted each other by touching noses, as then-Prince Harry and his new bride Meghan Markle demonstrated during a 2018 visit.
In India, residents greet each other by tipping their heads over chest-high clasped hands in namaste, a gesture also practiced in yoga.
And in Tibet, the traditional tashi delek involves gleefully sticking out one's pink tongue as a greeting, or as a sign of respect or agreement. It dates to a ninth century evil king, whose tongue was black.
As fear of the coronavirus spread in current times, alternatives to shaking hands emerged in China, where the virus was first diagnosed, and spread to Europe, where COVID-19 has hit hard in Britain and Italy.
Videos emerged on the Chinese social sharing network Weibo of people tapping each other's shoes as a way of saying hello, in a play on foot bumping instead of fist bumping.
In the Netherlands, politicians resorted to elbow-tapping during a recent briefing between Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister for Medical Care Bruno Bruins at The Hague.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, right, and Minister for Medical Care Bruno Bruins. Getty
“We don’t need to shake hands," Fauci warned in his appearances this week. "We’ve got to break that custom. Because as a matter of fact, that is really one of the major ways that you can transmit a respiratory illness.”