Physician: Ending handshaking is ‘good advice’ in virus age

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The chief medical officer of the Saint Francis Health System agrees it would be better if people don’t shake hands after the current COVID-19 pandemic runs its course.

Thomas Diemer, M.D., also president of Saint Francis Medical Partners, thinks White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci is giving the nation “good advice.”

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Wall Street Journal podcast April 7 Americans should find a new greeting.

Handshaking, Dr. Fauci said, ought to end immediately.

“I don’t think we should ever shake hands again, to be honest with you,” said the 79-year old Fauci.

“Not only would (ending handshaking) be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it would probably decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country,” he told the WSJ.

No argument from Diemer, head of a 3,000-employee health system.

“(Shaking hands) is one of the quickest ways to spread respiratory illnesses,” said Diemer, who has held the top medical post at Saint Francis for three years.

“Not just coronavirus but colds and influenza,” Diemer added, noting the spread can be rapid in continuing a gesture widely regarded as a sign of friendliness and amiability.

“Disease is spread by droplets when you cough in your hand,” the Illinois native said, “and any surface you touch afterward is contaminated.

“You’d be surprised how often a person touches his nose or face in the course of an hour,” Diemer said.

Diemer said people have been shaking hands at least since the 9th century B.C.

“I don’t know if we can break the habit,” Diemer said. “(Handshaking) is so ingrained and reaching for someone else’s hand is instinctive.”

Diemer says Saint Francis has no written policy about handshaking but discouraging hand-to-hand contact has been part of “all our communications since the emergency began.”

“(The coronavirus) is here; we have it in our community.

“Social distancing and handwashing all help stop the spread,” Diemer said.

“Ending the handshake would be a good idea but my fear is a lot of people would resist (stopping),” he opined.

SoutheastHEALTH did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

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