The French call it "la bise." For many gay men, it is a customary greeting at Sunday brunch or any other communal gathering: cheek-kissing, where one or both sides of the face receive a smooch from a friend.
However, such a gesture could help spread the outbreak of COVID-19 (or coronavirus disease), say world health officials, who are cautioning against cheek-kissing, hand-shaking, and high-fives.
Globally, more than 90,000 have been infected with the virus thus far, leaving officials in the more than 70 impacted countries and territories scrambling with its containment. One of the key defenses — and challenges — is changing how people interact and greet one another.
"Reduction of physical social contact is recommended. This includes la bise," advised Olivier Véran, France's health minister, reports CNN.
Likewise, Italy's coronavirus commissioner, Angelo Borrelli, recommended folks "not have too much contact" during this period, which involved changing the country's "very florid, very expansive" culture where kissing and physical touching are common.
Instead, Dr. Sylvie Briand, the director of pandemics at the World Health Organization, recommends a range of alternatives to tacticle greetings like waving, bumping elbows, or the Thai "wai," which is a slight bow with one's hands pressed together. Bumping shoes is also a gesture gaining traction on social media.
More creative alternatives at queer gatherings will undoubtedly emerge. (See: Will & Grace star Brian Jordan Alvarez's viral video showing "the secret interactions of gay men.")
The coronavirus can be spread through the air via "viral droplets" when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also spread when a person touches his or her face after touching a surface on which the virus is living.
To prevent this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation is to "wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds," which is about the length of time of two hummings of "Happy Birthday," and to stay home (and not go to brunch) if feeling ill. Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and range from mild to severe.
It is important to remember that coronavirus is different from the flu, chiefly because there is still a possibility of containment. Also, those with compromised immune systems — like people living with HIV and the elderly — are more likely to become seriously ill from the infection. So whatever one's perceived level of health may be, consider how coronavirus may be a lethal threat to many in the community.