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Editorial: Put an end to the handshake

The Detroit News

In addressing the coronavirus, this is the time for preparation and prevention, not panic, politics or pork-barreling.

President Donald Trump got that part right in the press conference he held Wednesday to bring the nation up to date on plans to deal with the virus, should it expand in the United States.

But at this point, as the president noted, there are fewer than 20 cases nationwide. While chances are good the number will grow, and perhaps even to epidemic levels, the best approach for now is to put a comprehensive plan in place, determine what resources should be stockpiled, and continue urgent work on developing treatments and vaccines.

President Trump charged Vice President Mike Pence with overseeing the coronavirus response.

That's what Vice President Mike Pence is charged with overseeing, working with federal health agencies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There's no reason to believe they can't handle the job, nor is there evidence that they are underplaying the threat.

Democrats pounced on Trump's initial funding proposal of $2.5 billion as being inadequate to combat the virus. At the press conference, the president assured that the government would spend as much as needed should the number of cases here rapidly increase. That's a prudent strategy.

Still, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is demanding $8 billion, and other Democrats and even some Republicans have suggested spending amounts higher than what Trump proposed. Where they're getting their numbers is unclear.

Spend what's needed to keep the country safe, but don't allow the virus to become an excuse for larding up programs that have little to do with public health.

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued knee-jerk criticism of Trump's coronavirus attacks. What they should be doing is calling a truce in their political war and working with the president to make sure the United States can quickly confront the virus should it become more widespread.  

In the meantime, Trump gave commonsense advice on preventing the disease, which is passed through human contact. Wash your hands frequently and use disinfectant on shared surfaces.

To that we'd add: Stop shaking hands. The handshake is a social custom that should be given the boot while a potential pandemic is knocking on the door.

It is a prime way of spreading the common cold, as well as more serious ailments, including the flu. Influenza, as Trump noted, kills between 12,000 and 61,000 people in the United States each year. For those who get the flu, the death rate is actually higher than it is for sufferers of the coronavirus.

Research from the University of Colorado found the average person carries 3,200 bacteria from 150 different species on his or her hands. Think about that the next time you walk through a receiving line. 

Comedian Howie Mandel has it right: Given its potential for spreading germs, the handshake should be considered dangerous and unnecessary and should be avoided, particularly at large gatherings. A fist-bump, a nod or bow are safer forms of greeting and serve just as well to convey a message of friendship and respect. 

Handshakes have been spreading disease for 2,000 years. Let's retire them and turn to a more sanitary greeting.