Ask Amy: Pandemic raises behavioral questions

Dear Amy: Several years ago, I collaborated on a project with an outside contractor. Although there is a large age difference between us, we hit it off right away and enjoy a friendship and communicate frequently.

We always try to get together when we are within an hour’s driving distance, so we can catch up in person. There is nothing like sitting across from a friend and breaking bread together. We will be in the same city next month and are making plans to get together for dinner.

In the past, greeting each other meant a big hug. In the age of COVID-19, what should we do now? A fist bump seems hardly adequate, but I certainly would not want to spread (or catch) the virus.

We also all have the need for human touch, and what is this going to do to us emotionally? I want to be smart — not cavalier or hysterical.

I have to think other people also have this question. What’s a person to do?

— Wondering

Dear Wondering: “Social distancing” might be the most effective way of halting the spread of the Coronavirus. You can greet someone by using the “praying hands” technique of pressing your own two hands together and giving a little bow. (I call this the “Namaste-hello). You can fold your hands across your chest as a way of signaling “no touch,” or greet your friend, saying, “How about an air-hug?”

Because you are dining together, you could also practice other germ-avoiding techniques such as not sharing food, drinks, or touching anything on the table that he has touched.

Dear Amy: Help! I live in an area with confirmed cases of Coronavirus Disease. There have been deaths from the illness within miles of where I live.

My boyfriend is making jokes, saying it is being blown out of proportion. I know a lot of other people are joking about this, too.

Maybe I could be a little more tolerant of their comments if I didn’t have cancer, in addition to two other autoimmune issues.

The boyfriend — and other friends who are fully aware of my situation — don’t seem to be concerned with how his/their remarks make me feel even more frightened than I already am.

I am already pretty much house-bound. There must be other people who feel the way I do?

— Nervous and Annoyed

Dear Nervous: I’m sure there are many, many other people who feel as you do — certainly those with underlying illnesses or health conditions which render them more susceptible to serious illness — or death — from flu or the Coronavirus.

Sometimes people joke about issues that are actually frightening, as a way to whistle past the graveyard.

Sometimes people joke about frightening issues because they are insensitive gits.

My sense is that you have some people in your life who present their own kind of viral toxicity. I wish there was a way to inoculate you against exposure to them. You should guard your health and work hard to keep your stress and panic in check.

Dear Amy: What do you say to a 50-ish woman who doesn’t wash her hands after using the restroom?

I work in a large office building that houses around 20 professional businesses. There are common-area restrooms in the main hallways of the building. With regular flu going around and coronavirus ramping up, it seems like a no-brainer to wash one’s hands.

Signs have been posted around the building about covering your cough and proper washing techniques, and this woman still leaves her stall and heads straight back to her office.

What’s a tactful, polite way to say, “Wash your hands!”?

— Grossed Out

Dear Grossed Out: The management company running the building should post signs on each bathroom mirror and on the inside doors of stalls, reminding people to wash their hands thoroughly. If any individual in any of the companies within this building gets this virus, it could have a large and lingering impact on a great many people.

This worldwide viral outbreak has inspired many excellent and entertaining videos on proper handwashing technique. It also provides cover for you to ask, “Would you mind washing your hands before leaving the bathroom?”

In addition to washing your own hands thoroughly, you should also use a paper towel to turn the handle on the bathroom door before exiting.

My research has led me down a rabbit hole of information about the spread of “fecal matter” outside of the bathroom. It’s not pretty.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)