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10 Etiquette Rules You Can Now Ignore Because of Coronavirus

Better safe than sorry during these confusing times.

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The polite thing to do: Don’t spread germs!

COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, has swept up the nation in a panic. These uncertain times call for new etiquette rules that can be complex to navigate. After all, you don’t want to be rude…but you also don’t want to put your safety at risk or potentially harm others. So, we consulted a few etiquette experts to figure out just what we should and shouldn’t be doing right now—and how to handle even the trickiest of situations. From properly greeting people to declining an invitation, here’s how you can politely keep your distance. And while you’re at it, remember to wash your hands regularly and correctly. That simple hygiene practice can prevent coronavirus and a long list of other diseases.

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Shaking hands

“Who would have thought that a handshake [could be] dangerous?” says etiquette expert and Golden Rules Gal Lisa Grotts. Formerly thought of as the best way to introduce yourself, handshakes are now frowned upon because they can transmit the deadly virus. The CDC recommends reducing physical contact with others, and as a result, Grotts says that “germ-free gestures” have become the new handshake. These include a variety of options like the namaste greeting, a royal wave, or an air kiss. “The handshake is on hold for what could be an indefinite period of time,” she says. “They’re risky business, so lead by example.” Check out these other polite ways to get out of shaking hands.

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Sharing food

Long gone are the days when you could steal your significant other’s fries or pass the dessert around the table. Serious times call for serious measures, and this is one of them. You should only eat from your plate and not allow for sharing of any type. If you are ordering takeout or delivery, Grotts suggests that you ask for separate plates as well as separate serving utensils for any items. Taking it one step further, she adds that “it’s now a wise practice not to handle salt and pepper shakers or condiment jars.” Here are a few more things you’re probably sharing that germ experts wouldn’t.

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Having important business meetings in person

Pre-coronavirus, in-person meetings were a must for your important business relationships. They signaled commitment and provided a crucial time for decision-makers to meet face-to-face. Now, just say no—for your own safety and the safety of everyone else. In fact, “saying no can be the most important thing you do,” says Marilena Petrache, an image consultant and corporate trainer. Her advice is to cancel all of your in-person business engagements and to propose a video call or conference call instead. These alternatives will provide you with the important time to share ideas but won’t put anyone at risk for contracting the virus. Plus, it takes the pressure off anyone else who might have wanted to cancel but were worried about doing so. Even before this crisis, these are the office etiquette rules no one follows anymore.

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Clinking glasses for a toast

Saying a hearty “cheers” while clinking your glasses is just about the most celebratory thing you can do during an outing. Cheers follow heartfelt toasts and are expected in normal times. Not anymore, says Melanie Musson, a lifestyle and etiquette writer for the life-insurance site QuickQuote.com. “Keep drinking vessels to yourself!” she firmly asserts. Musson says that during COVID-19 times, an “air clink” should be considered sufficiently celebratory while remaining sanitary. And when it comes to glasses and other everyday items, don’t forget to clean these 17 little things.

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Saying hello with a kiss

A kiss on the cheek is a common greeting for many people, especially for Europeans who deploy two upon first meeting someone. “Although not mainstream throughout the United States, there are some areas where a cheek kiss is the standard polite greeting,” Musson explains. “But if handshaking is out, cheek kissing is definitely out!” She advocates for air-kissing or for being straightforward and communicating that you are making them equally safe by avoiding a cheek kiss.

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Changing your RSVP after you’ve already said yes

“Standard etiquette says that if you replied that you would go, you must go,” explains Musson. That being said, in the age of coronavirus, you can skip events with a clear conscience. Right now, it’s all about social distancing, say health experts, because it’s the only way to mitigate the spread of this disease. And in fact, many larger gatherings are being canceled throughout the country. If the event in question hasn’t, though, and you’ve already promised that you would attend, send a note to the host as soon as possible. Clearly explain that you regret skipping the event but that you think it will be safer for you and them in the long run. On the flip side, here are 25 things even polite people don’t apologize for.

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Exchanging business cards

Standard business etiquette calls for you to exchange or offer a card upon greeting or at the end of a meeting. Samuel Johns, an HR specialist at Resume Genius, has an updated etiquette rule during these uncertain times. “Because it’s unclear how long COVID-19 survives on different surfaces, including paper and card, it’s now no longer necessary to exchange business cards when meeting a new client or business partner,” he explains. “Instead, simply send out that information in an email, or transfer your contact information via AirDrop or Bluetooth.” In case you’ve ever wondered, here’s exactly how Bluetooth technology works.

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Asking for space

Until now, asking somebody to keep their distance or reminding them of your personal space could have been considered a faux pas—or at least might have felt super awkward. Not anymore, says British lifestyle expert Dame Luisa Ruocco. “Where before it was considered rude to point out to people that they were invading your personal space, it is now completely fine to do so and to ask them to leave at least six feet between them and you,” she explains. In addition to etiquette rules, these are the new air travel rules you must follow.

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Holding babies and children

Meeting babies is always a delight, but it can be fraught with complications. In some ways, this is nothing new. For example, parents of newborns might have been reluctant to let someone else hold their baby in the past, but they may have begrudgingly agreed to it so they didn’t appear rude. No need to worry about that anymore! Let your mama-bear instincts come right on out…politely, of course.

On the flip side, some parents might have been eager to let others hold their children so that they could give their arms a bit of a rest. The problem is, it seems that children can be carriers for the virus (along with other infected people without symptoms), meaning that they can unwittingly pass it on to others. Miguel A. Suro of The Rich Miser says that you don’t have to feel obligated to hold or carry others’ kids and babies during the coronavirus pandemic. The old etiquette rule doesn’t apply, and you can politely decline any parent who asks.

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Offering to carry packages or groceries

Seeing a neighbor fumbling with heavy packages used to mean that you should rush over and offer a helping hand. “I feel terrible saying this,” says Suro. “But since the virus can live on surfaces, you shouldn’t help others carry their packages or groceries.” This protects you as much as it protects them and their grocery loot from catching any germs that you may have on your hands. Next, find out the wise ways you should be stocking up your groceries, emergency or not.

Priscila Martinez
Priscila Martinez is a freelance writer and award-winning brand specialist living in Los Angeles, California. She covers topics like health, beauty, fashion, travel, celebrity, workplace and the public relations & entertainment industries. She writes for publications like Forbes, Adweek, Mane Addicts, Radio Disney's Sweety High, Extraordinary Health, Asia Times, and dozens of other publications.