Early in the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said something that grabbed a lot of attention: Handshakes should become a thing of the past.
It sounded far-fetched.
But as the outbreak drags on, and we have become more conscious of germs and hygiene, “some of the changes we made are likely to be really durable,” said Malia Jones, who researches social environments and infectious disease exposure at the Applied Population Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Blowing Out the Candles on Your Cake
The tradition of singing around a birthday cake and blowing out the candles could fade.
“Spit all over the cake has always been disgusting to me,” said Susan Hassig, an associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University in New Orleans.
It is the singing of “Happy Birthday” that actually poses a greater risk when it comes to spreading droplets that could carry respiratory illnesses, such as the novel coronavirus, said Melissa Nolan, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. It is best to take the singing outside, she said, and to spread out, too.
Taking a Drag From a Friend’s Vape
If you still smoke tobacco, you already know you should quit, but now there is an added risk in a shared vape or cigarette. As for marijuana, more users are turning to edibles during the pandemic.
Legal sales of edibles increased by 32.1% the week of July 20 compared with the week of Jan. 6 in California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington, according to data from Headset, a cannabis market research firm, and inhaled items like pre-rolled joints and vapor pens underperformed compared with the marijuana market as a whole.
“It is unlikely that many people would feel comfortable passing a joint around a circle of friends these days,” said Cooper Ashley, a senior data analyst at Headset.
Hassig said sharing swigs or smokes could spread any respiratory illness, not just the coronavirus.
Letting Your Kid Jump Into a Ball Pit
Swimming around in a pool of plastic — a material cited by experts to be especially good at harboring germs — could become a thing of the past.
McDonald’s had already phased them out of its Playplaces. “I don’t know if we’ve got ball pits in our future,” the company’s chief executive, Chris Kempczinski, recently told Time. “There’s probably some good public-health reasons not for us to be doing a lot of ball pits.”
Getting a Quick After-Work Makeover
Once upon a time, if you wanted to try new makeup — or give yourself a free makeover between the office and after-work drinks — you could head for the testers or samples at Sephora, Ulta or department stores. Just don’t think too hard about who used the brush or lipstick sample before you. Saks Fifth Avenue is one store making changes. Reusable samples have been replaced with single-use, disposable items, its chief executive told The New York Post.
Fumbling Around an Escape Room
Trapped in an enclosed room on a timer, you and your friends touch, poke and slide objects in hopes of unlocking the next clue, touching the same surfaces, breathing the same air.
Escape rooms have now gone virtual. What does that look like? One escape room operator in Florida taped a phone to his chest and participants called with instructions over videoconference. Not quite the same.
Bumping Elbows at a Loud, Crowded Bar
After months of distancing, mask wearing and nixing small talk in public, will we be shouting in one another’s faces at bars or clubs again? Experts hope not.
“Social distancing is going to become a common norm at this point,” Nolan said.
Having a conversation with someone up close, especially when people are talking loudly or excitedly in a setting where alcohol is flowing and music blaring, is risky, Nolan said, advising that calm, low-volume, conversation is safer.
Your behavior in social situations will be shaped by how people around you act, said Jeanine Skorinko, a social psychology professor at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. If your group keeps social-distancing rules, talks quietly and avoids sharing drinks, you are likely to follow suit.
Plunging a Handful of Straws Into a Giant Party Cocktail
You know those comically large shared alcoholic drinks? Sometimes they are called scorpion bowls. They might feature plastic fish swimming around in a plastic fish bowl. Or the drink might be a Moscow Mule fit for an actual mule, served in a copper mug the size of a flower pot.
Those giant party cocktails are backwash buckets, epidemiologists said.
Nolan said the alcohol could potentially kill whatever comes through the straw, although Hassig warned that some germs and viruses “could survive a dunk into a drink.” If these drinks ever come back, share them only with close roommates.
Hosting a Poker Game or a Settlers of Catan Night
Having friends over to your place might be better than going out because at least you can control whom you are in close contact with. But hosts should consider inviting “individuals of a similar kind of risk tolerance,” Hassig said.
And you might want to have those gatherings outside, if possible, experts said.
Dealing and shuffling cards, or leaning over a board to manipulate tiles, cards, dice and other pieces may be risky. Nolan suggested playing games that do not require contact with other players. Charades, anyone?
(It should be noted that popular card games and board games like Scrabble, Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride have apps that can be played with a group using phones, tablets or computers.)
Passing the Microphone at Karaoke
Passing a mic around a group of friends and singing (if you can call it that, for some of us) in a small room goes against the epidemiologists’ guidance to avoid singing or to do it outdoors. In Japan, where the virus is under better control and karaoke is widely popular, a karaoke industry association advised establishments to ask patrons to wear masks and to limit the number of people in a room.
The days of mindlessly wandering the mall were already on the way out, and the coronavirus could be the nail in the coffin for serendipitous retail therapy.
Intentional online shopping on platforms like Amazon can’t offer “stumble-upon, surprise-discovery” experiences, said Jaclyn Johnson, chief executive of Create & Cultivate, which opened a pop-up shop in Culver City, California, last month.
The shop is an “online, offline hybrid,” Johnson said. Shoppers can browse items online or through shop windows and pick up their purchases at the store or have them delivered by Postmates, the delivery app. She hopes this retail model will outlast the pandemic.
Shaking Hands, Hugging a Friend, Kissing a Cheek
Back to Fauci and handshakes. What are the alternatives? The elbow bump — in all its clunky, awkward glory — could be a long-term alternative, Hassig said.
But there is good news about hugging: It is less risky than a peck on the cheek and even a handshake, Nolan said, because we normally turn our faces away from each other while hugging.
Even so, all these greetings bring people in close contact when it is often unnecessary.
“There are greetings that have worked for centuries” that don’t involve touching one another, Hassig said, citing the wai in Thailand, which involves putting your hands together in a prayer-like fashion and bowing slightly.
She also suggested waving from a distance.
Bryan Pietsch c.2020 The New York Times Company