Can you explain the risks between these covid situations?
May 7, 2020 11:23 AM   Subscribe

What difference can hugging make? (hear me out)

My province will soon be relaxing guidelines around socializing. Starting next week small gatherings of 2-6 friends indoors are being allowed. However they are still suggesting no physical contact, no hugging.

Is there really a measurable difference between the viral risk of 6 people in a room together for hours sharing the air vs the same plus hugs?

I cannot see how hugging or not hugging matters at that point.

(in case it's not obvious I haven't touched a human in 6 weeks)
posted by Cosine to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I suggest that you seek medical advice, and keep in mind (WaPo) that "Humans are hardwired to anticipate positive outcomes, says Tali Sharot, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University College London who studies optimism and expectations. “When there is something we want to believe, we are very good at interpreting the evidence in a way that would support that belief,” Sharot says."

There are also opinions from public health experts about how to protect yourself and those around you, and links to health information about the coronavirus on the MeFi Wiki Disaster Planning & Recovery page, including information about how to protect yourself and others.
posted by katra at 11:36 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]

Breathing the air of someone with the virus is enough to get it as far as I can tell from all the horrors I've read. Getting close enough to hug is breathing their air.

I know you want to believe you can hug, but getting a hug might kill you now and for the foreseeable future. Please don't get anywhere near another human. I beg you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:57 AM on May 7 [13 favorites]

Personally, I would feel that hugging is just as risky as gathering indoors. I suppose you could clean all surfaces, give people hand sanitizer at the door, have them wear masks (to discourage nose/mouth contact and spreading germs that way) and then sit far apart from each other and not wander about or eat/drink together. That is the least risky way to "hang out." If you hug someone, maybe they sneezed into their elbow and now it's on your clothes and then you've touched your clothes and then you ate some chips and licked your fingers after? It's so, so hard to not touch your face, not to touch surfaces.

I got yelled at on the blue for suggesting that direct contact (hand to face) is a far more likely and far more successful transmittant of the virus than breathing the air near someone else also breathing the air, but I feel like science can back me up here. However, there's risk in sharing spaces and that can include viral particulate in the air. Whether it is enough to effectively transmit the virus and make you sick is going to vary on lots of things, not the least of which is whether the person sharing the space is also sharing this particular virus.

But, yeah, hugging introduces yet another opportunity for direct contact. I would suggest a questionnaire accompany in-person hangouts and possibly a recent temperature reading. I would feel safe hugging someone when we have both showered recently and washed our hands, when we both are symptom-free and have been symptom free of any kind of cold or virus for at least two weeks. When the area has been cleaned. When we avoid eating and drinking together or commit to not sharing any utensils. When both commit to washing hands thoroughly.

But every person still needs to be smart about their level of risk tolerance. You cannot be *without* risk but you can minimize it to the point of your comfort level and you are going to have to choose folks who have been diligent and are not belligerent about these issues.

Edited to add: please don't yell at me again for being circumspect about the breathing air thing. I have read and listened to a number of different kinds of scientists saying that this is the least likely way to transmit. That does not mean that you cannot get the virus this way!
posted by amanda at 12:05 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]

If you're going to be sitting on a couch next to someone, or across an average size dining table, in a closed room, for hours, I personally would absolutely be ok with hugging that person. I see sharing the same air for extended periods as far more dangerous than a very brief passing into close contact. But that's just me- you've got to make your own risk calculus. And definitely ask your friend first before going in for one!
posted by Jobst at 12:05 PM on May 7

My last hug was March 15, I feel you. One thing I'm considering is asking a friend to be in my bubble - we would spend time together / hug but continue limiting contact with others. You would want to consider prevalence and spread of COVID in your area and the exposures and risk factors of other people in your bubble. This is something you should explicitly talk about, including what happens if one or both of you become ill, how you and any pets would be cared for, etc. Six people is going to increase everyone's exposure a lot. I would look at one person or one household that has been doing a good job of self-isolating and wait at least several weeks before considering adding anyone else. Depending on your risk tolerance, you may also want to wait several weeks and see what your province's relaxing guidelines does to spread in your area before hugging anyone.

Preventing the spread of COVID is important and the rest of people's physical and mental health also matters.
posted by momus_window at 12:06 PM on May 7 [5 favorites]

Getting close enough to hug is breathing their air.

Agreed, that is what I am trying to answer. The virus is airborne, if you share indoor space with someone you are breathing their air regardless of hug or not. I am not planning a hug without better data but currently I can't understand how a hug makes it more dangerous if you are already in an enclosed space for hours.
posted by Cosine at 12:08 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]

I'll second asking for medical advice, either by talking to your doctor or calling 1-888-COVID19 if you're in BC or your province's equivalent if you're elsewhere.

The high-level explanation, however, is that contracting COVID-19 isn't a binary switch of either being exposed to one particle of the virus and getting sick or not being exposed and not getting sick. The amount of the virus that gets into your body and how quickly makes a difference. A healthy immune system and all your natural filters might successfully repel or kill the particles you encounter by sharing air in an enclosed space over the course of a few hours, but might be overwhelmed by the amount of particles you encounter all at once getting cheek to cheek with someone, breathing in their breath close up and potentially transferring what's on your hands and face.
posted by northernish at 12:21 PM on May 7 [37 favorites]

northernish: thanks, these are aspects I hadn't considered!
posted by Cosine at 12:22 PM on May 7

This STAT News article discusses some of the developing science on this issue: How much of the coronavirus does it take to make you sick? The science, explained (April 14, 2020), and you may want to review articles that emphasize the apparent importance of ventilation and other measures to help ensure "exhaled viral particles don’t get re-inhaled," e.g. NECSI.
posted by katra at 12:36 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]

It's not really useful to think about public health measures in terms of individual health. Knowing that the lifetime chances of a man getting lung cancer is 1 out 15 doesn't tell you anything about how likely you will get lung cancer.

The added risk from hugging to the individuals in the room is real, as others have explained, but honestly it's probably a pretty small increase. Thing is, once you apply that tiny increased risk to entire populations, the impacts become non-negligible. An increase of 0.1% across a million people is a thousand additional people who get sick.
posted by yeahlikethat at 1:08 PM on May 7 [7 favorites]

I think the risks are the same, based on the example of the choral group who got together to rehearse and made sure to not hug or shake hands, used hand sanitizer, and sat apart, yet still spread it just by singing in the same room.
posted by xo at 2:38 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]

What does contact tracing/community testing data tell us about Covid19 transmission dynamics? A Twitter thread reviewing the data by Dr. Muge Cevik Infectious Diseases / Virology Clinician & Researcher at University of St Andrews.

I do not believe she specifically discusses hugs, but you could suggest.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 2:41 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]

(After you click on that link you might need to click "Show Thread" to see the actual data.)
posted by Winnie the Proust at 2:43 PM on May 7

You know the advice to wash your hands? If you don't touch anything or anyone you'll end up with fewer live viruses on your skin and clothing and thus be less likely to transfer it to your nose. Do you really want to hug someone who has been coughing and sneezing into the crook of their elbow? What if you need to sneeze after that? You better not instinctively tuck your nose into the your own arm.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:48 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]

What if you hold your breath while you hug, and wear a pullover that you take off immediately afterwards and stow in a bag for later washing? And then wash your hands and face? I would think that would mitigate the increased risk at least somewhat.
posted by lollusc at 6:01 PM on May 7

the example of the choral group who got together to rehearse and made sure to not hug or shake hands, used hand sanitizer, and sat apart, yet still spread it just by singing in the same room.

THIS. I was singing karaoke that night and only by the grace of luck.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:38 PM on May 7

The thing is, how could you possibly enjoy a hug with a friend given how much unknown risk there is? What if they are fine but have an immunocompromised mom or spouse, and you are fine but are the reason that person gets sick?

There's far too much risk vs. too little reward. Dying on a ventilator, alone, is a fate no one should be consigned to because I was lonely for a hug.
posted by emjaybee at 9:01 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]

From your post it seems you may be in Canada particularly BC. With all due respect for everyone's advice, I think asking on a website heavily populated with Americans isn't the best move. Because the situation is much more severe most places in the US people are going to recommend stricter measures.

BC's last update suggested making personal cautious choices weighing the risk levels of everyone involved. There was a question about hugging and the response was to look at the risk levels and social circles of folks involved. So I would look more at who you are getting close to in the first place.
posted by vanitas at 11:34 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]

Here is another excellent piece that discusses what is known about the mechanisms of viral transmission, and how it occurs in real-world environments.

The takeaways appear to be avoid enclosed environments, people who are coughing, sneezing, and singing should stay home, and everyone should put down the toilet lid before they flush.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 12:30 PM on May 9

Should you be desperate: Both persons wear a mask and disposable gloves. Hugger approaches huggee from behind. Scratch the other's back thoroughly. Hug tight for sixty seconds. Let go. Back away 8 feet. Both persons turn and repeat the procedure, with the hugger becoming the scratcher/huggee. Move apart 8 feet, remove and dispose of gloves. Wash hands. Chat, wave good bye, then take leave. Remove masks, repeat sanatizing hands.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:20 PM on May 9

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