Scientists Weigh In on the Safest Ways to Hug During a Pandemic

There are a lot of things about “normal” life that we miss. Ever since the coronavirus pandemic started, life has been…different. We don’t see our friends in person like we used to. We can’t go shopping without waiting in line and crossing our fingers there will be toilet paper in stock. It seems that there is some sort of risk with everything involved.

One of things that many people miss during this pandemic is hugging. If it’s risky to even talk to your friends and extended family members, it’s reasonable to assume that hugging, which is impossible to do while social distancing, is high risk.

Well, impossible is going too far. Some people have gotten very creative finding ways to make hugging safe and possible. If you don’t want to build your own plastic sheet hugging station, can you still hug?

Realize that hugging does involve risk, but it may not be as high risk as you assume. It is possible to hug during a pandemic.

There is a specific way to hug in order to reduce risk. Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech, and Julian Tang, a virologist and associate professor at the University of Leicester in England, shared the following advice with the New York Times about how to hug while reducing risk.

  • Wear face masks.
  • Make sure the person you’re hugging does not have any symptoms.
  • Choose a friend or family member who you know well to hug. Basically, make the hug count.
  • Hug outside.
  • Ideally, hold your breathe during the hug. Most hugs last 10 seconds or less, so this isn’t as hard to do as you would imagine.
  • Point your faces away from each other so that you’re looking in opposite directions. Don’t look the same direction and don’t face each other.
  • Try your best not to cough or cry while hugging.
  • Don’t talk while hugging.
  • Move in for the hug and back away from the hug quickly. These times of close contact before and after the hug might actually be slightly riskier than the hug itself. Why? When we are near each other, facing each other and breathing in each other’s air space, the risk goes up. If we hug so that we are faced away from each other, we are not breathing on each other.
  • If you’re hugging a young child, let the child hug you around the legs. That way your faces are further away from each other. Avoid looking down at the child because then your breath would travel down towards the child’s air space.

Even if someone happens to cough during a hug, it’s not as bad as you could assume. Even if the person who coughs has COVID-19, the other person may not get sick. Most of the droplets from the cough would fall on the ground and in the air away from the person who they are hugging. Only about 2% of the liquid from the cough would land on the friend who is being hugged.

While there definitely is risk involved when hugging anyone who is not in your household, if you really need a hug, especially if you live by yourself or miss hugging your family members, you can make it a lower risk activity by following the above advice.

Do you miss hugs? Who do you want to hug the most?