Editor’s Take: With all courtesy, keep your distance

Charles M. Kelly

I’m not a hugger.

A co-worker recently said I pioneered “social distancing” before it was a thing.

Until recently, that appeared to be something of a handicap to both my work and my personal life. Now it’s considered a public safety measure.

Some of the most fetching women I’ve met have taken bitter offense at my instinctive reaction to an unexpected embraced from someone I haven’t known for, oh, half a decade or so.

About seven years ago, two different women hugged me. All my muscles immediately went taught. (It either has something to do with a long-ago aggravated assault, or I’m a jerk.)

She scowled and said, “Oh, I’m not supposed to do that?”

That same evening, another woman hugged me. my muscles went taught. She gave me an irritated look. I said: “I’m not a hugger.”

She said: “Well, you’re going to have to learn.”

I got one of my dearest friends out of that experience, so it was worth it.

Handshakes are now discouraged, though there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on alternatives. Elbow bumps make sense, I guess, but require you to get within 6 feet of another person.

Personally, I think a friendly waive or the “Star Trek” gesture that means “Live Long and Prosper” might be a healthy alternative to shaking hands—and it doesn’t require you to get within sneezing distance of someone.

“Based on what is currently known about the virus, spread from person-to-person happens most frequently among close contacts (within 6 feet),” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Sunday, March 15, guidelines. Last I heard, that hasn’t changed.

It’s called “social distancing,” which basically means keeping non-essential direct contact with people to a minimum. Over the weekend two women hugged me. One was in the high-risk age group for COVID-19.

I can’t say I’m happy with this situation, as some of my favorite people are instinctive huggers. (I love my friends, but I don’t understand them.) However, keeping a discrete distance from one another is a reasonable precaution against a microbe that will prove inconvenient for some and is potentially dangerous for seniors and the sick.

So far, a lot of people are still shaking hands. Over the weekend, a couple shook my hand. “People are still shaking hands?” I asked.

One of them said: “We’re from out of state.”

I wonder: Do germs care what state you’re from?

On Sunday, the governor asked individuals 65 and older to stay home. I’m 58—not quite in the red zone for risk, but old enough to be aware I’m not exactly “safe.” .I know individuals with COPD, asthma, and other afflictions who would be at risk even if they weren’t also seniors.


On Thursday, March 29, the governor issued a stay-at-home order that basically means if you don’t work in an essential field and you’re not getting food or medical care, you shouldn’t leave your place.


It’s, let’s face it, worrisome. Panic won’t keep us safe, but neither will pretending there’s nothing to worry about.

At the Sun, the editors are doing their jobs. The staff are doing their jobs. Everyone at the office is required to keep 6 feet apart. We’re sanitizing things regularly.

For now, please be well.

Oh, and let me pass along this tip from my college microbiology class: after you brush your teeth, pour boiling water on the toothbrush or you could reinfect yourself. I went from having six-month colds to having two-week colds.

It wouldn’t hurt to remember that at the same time you are washing your hands.

Besides, I want my neighbors and sources to be healthy when all this is over and they go back to hugging.


Charles M. Kelly is the editor of the Paramount Journal.