My son and I had a very serious conversation recently. It was one of those tough, grownup-to-teenager talks, and like many of these, it all started with a question.
“Mom, how worried should I be about coronavirus?”
Me: “Call it COVID-19, dagnabbit!”
Kidding. I don’t know why the media (including The Trib) feels the need to specifically say COVID-19. I mean, can you imagine telling someone you have coronavirus, and they respond, “Which one? Crossin’ my fingers it’s COVID-5, my friend.”
I feel like saying, “Stop trying to make COVID-19 happen.”
“How does it spread?” my son asked.
Thankfully, I knew just how to talk to my kid about this. I’m currently working at the Utah Capitol during the legislative session, where politicians meet voters and lobbyists and elementary kids, and handshakes are part of the job. But as of last week, it became a handshake-free zone, like quarantine for your fingers. Guess we all know how it feels to be in quarantine now.
So, I sat my son down, and said in a serious voice, “You know, when two coworkers work with each other a lot, they develop a working relationship, that is no way like a personal relationship. The first time they meet, they do a very special thing with their hands. It’s like a hug. But with hands.”
“You mean a handshake,” he said.
“Precisely,” I said. Nothing gets by my 17-year-old. “But sometimes, as with any non-personal relationship, it can be met with resistance.”
“You mean like the resistant strain of coronavirus?”
“No, not always virus resistance, but in this case, yes. So, sometimes what you have to do is avoid large spaces with lots of people.”
“Like the Capitol during session,” he asked.
“And my school assembly?”
“Um… yes. But when you have to go to these places, all you have to do is remember to wash your hands for 20 seconds, and forego handshakes.”
“What about hugs?”
“Oh, hugs are just fine. Plus, if things get bad, we can get those masks.”
“Do those things really work?” he asked.
“No, not really. But the pure expense of them makes me think they must.”
My son narrowed his eyes. “So, who is really the adult in this conversation we’re having?”
“Well, son, I’m glad you asked about my experience at the Capitol. When you see someone you know, each of you reach your hands out to shake. It’s automatic. But then it turns into this thing where your hands both do this slow dive, and then you pull them back awkwardly. Then one of you holds out a fist to bump, but of course if germs are on hands, they’re certainly on fingers, which do the actual bumping. So you don’t bump. Then one of you holds out an elbow as a greeting, and your face winces because you remembered that person coughing into their elbow.”
“Isn’t that just what doctors advocate?” he said.
“Yes, but I’m not sure they fully anticipated every scenario. What if a square dance breaks out?”
“Hmm,” he said thoughtfully.
“Anyway, then after you use the restroom, you wash your hands, and then you shove your shoulder against the door to open it, so you can avoid germs.”
“You do that with every door?”
“Oh no. That’s silly,” I said, rubbing Purell into my hands. “Just the bathroom doors.”
“What about handrails? Gavels? Computers? Elevator buttons?’
He had a good point.
He sighed. “Going back to my original question, Mom, how worried should I be?”
I thought about it. “I’d say mildly.”
“What’s mildly?” he asked.
“Well, you want to be somewhere in between a pure panic and licking the handrails.”
“So, wash my hands?”
I nodded. That’ll do, son. That’ll do.
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.