In-Person Protocols Questioned as COVID-19 Cases Rise

Mask mandates are returning in some areas of the U.S.—even for vaccinated people—which could frustrate those who have enjoyed fewer restrictions.
Colleagues greeting with elbow bump in office

© Luis Alvarez - DigitalVision/Getty Images

You may want to hold off on that handshake once again. Cases of COVID-19 transmission are up across the U.S., prompting new mask recommendations and a return to some social distancing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday that fully vaccinated people also should begin wearing masks indoors in areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates. The highly contagious delta variant, already the dominant form of the disease in the United States, is causing an increase in cases across the country, just as many businesses are about to bring employees back to work and schools are set to resume.

Federal health officials say that fully vaccinated individuals comprise a very small amount of transmission of the virus. But states with low vaccination rates are prompting a new wave of the virus across the U.S., causing federal officials to recommend that Americans wear masks.

“In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the delta variant and protect others,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters on a call Tuesday.

The CDC’s guidance is a recommendation. States and local officials set their own recommendations.

But even as rising vaccination rates over recent weeks prompted many to remove their masks, some people may not be completely comfortable with returning to closer interactions, including handshakes and standing near one another.

Ramon Ray, editor and founder of Smart Hustle Media, spoke with 50 business owners to learn how they’re navigating in-person business greetings during the pandemic. Ray found that since the pandemic began, many people are much more aware of germs, and new forms of greeting have remained popular. Alternative greetings include a big smile and nod of the head; clasping two hands together; or a fist bump, among others.

You can wait for the other person to initiate if you’re unsure how they want to be greeted. For example, Ray prefers a fist bump. “To be clear on how you wish to be greeted, you must initiate first,” Ray writes in a column for “I initiate a fist bump several steps before I’m in range to even touch someone. I make the first move to show the person my ‘fist of greeting.’ Often times, this serves as an acceptable signal to him or her that I wish to greet with a fist bump.”

But in the workplace and interactions with clients, be careful not to offend or to assume that all are comfortable returning to interactions common before the pandemic. “I find a big smile, firm verbal greeting, and clasping my hands together gives most people a clear signal that I really don’t wish to … even shake their hands,” Ray writes. “Most people will understand.”

Also, Ray says it’s a good idea to explain to others, particularly those you will be working with frequently, how you prefer to be greeted and ask them about their level of comfort.