Shaking hands, or giving high fives and hugs were frowned upon during the pandemic, but at least for people in the U.K., hugs are back. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light Monday for Brits to resume cautious hugging as he began lifting COVID-19 restrictions in England.
But what does cautious hugging mean? According to CNN, the Centers for Disease Control has not issued any guidelines for safe ways to hug, so two experts offered their opinions.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University said unvaccinated people should wear masks if they hug, and "make it brief." Both Schaffner and Dr. Leana Wen, a visiting professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, agreed unvaccinated people should only hug outdoors.
Children who are not eligible to receive their shots should hug their vaccinated loved ones around the waist and keep their faces away from the face of the person they are hugging, Schaffner said. The same rule applies for unvaccinated teens. While they are likely to be too tall to hug someone around the waist, they should tilt their head to one side to avoid face-to-face connection, even while donning a mask.
For fully vaccinated people, the experts told CNN the rules are relaxed.
"Fully vaccinated people can hug one another without restriction, including indoors, without masks," Wen said.
She added that not only means you can hug family members but also new acquaintances and romantic partners. The expert warned, a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their second dose of the vaccine, except in the case of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson drug.
Schaffner added, two fully vaccinated people can enjoy each other's company for long periods of time and even canoodle.
"I think two vaccinated people can sit on a couch together, shoulder to shoulder, enjoying a bowl of popcorn and being fond and affectionate together," he told CNN.
The experts said the exception is if your want to hug an immunocompromised person who has been vaccinated but, because of their medical condition, might not have the full benefits of the drugs. It is estimated 3%, or 7 million U.S. adults suffer from an autoimmune disorder.
Wen says many people are not ready to get physical after over a year of isolation and social distancing. She advises taking post-vaccine re-entry at your own speed.
Some individuals are looking forward to mingling with others after a year of social distancing, but for others, it might be fraught with anxiety. According to USA Today, experts recommend taking baby steps if the thought of socializing is overwhelming.
"It's important to know yourself. What is enough socializing? What is too much?" says Marilyn Fettner, a career and life coach in the Chicago area. "Notice yourself, notice your own reaction and how you're feeling about getting back into a social life."
The American Psychological Association's Stress in America report found nearly half of Americans feel uneasy about returning to in-person interaction. Those uneasy feelings are normal, say experts, and everyone has a different comfort level. Dr. Debra O'Shea, a clinical psychologist based in New York City who specializes in anxiety, advised taking "baby steps," according to USA Today. "Dip your foot in the pond slowly."
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