The moment called for a handshake. Or would have, under what used to be considered normal circumstances.
As in, before 2020.
Here’s the scene, from Dec. 21: Tabe Mase, the director of employee health services and a nurse practitioner at ChristianaCare Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware, had just inserted a needle — one delivering the COVID-19 vaccine — into the left arm of President-elect Joe Biden. After Biden said a few words about the magnitude of the moment, Mase extended her right arm to begin bidding him farewell.
Not for a handshake. For a fist bump — the official greeting of 2020, and probably beyond.
“It certainly would have been a handshake if it was 2019,” Mase said several days after the fist bump seen live around the world. “But we’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’re trying to figure out ways to keep our patients safe and keep that human connection. … That fist bump was, ‘I see you, I hear you, I’m connecting with you, but I’m keeping you safe.’”
Safety is the primary reason why the status of the fist bump elevated big-time this year. The handshake was simply a causality of the coronavirus. Once a customary greeting, it has become beyond frowned upon. No less of an authority than Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, flatly called for the end of shaking hands believing it not only would be a deterrent against spreading coronavirus, but even other viruses such as influenza.
So, now we bump, not shake. Some — Fauci among them — seem to prefer the elbow bump, maybe even a brush of forearms.
But let’s face it: They lack the coolness of the fist bump. It’s been here for years – just look to athletes’ celebrations – but never more popular than now.
Barack and Michelle Obama famously fist-bumped when he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination in June 2008, making the move very cool in some circles, causing outrage in others. A Fox News analyst suggested at the time the then soon-to-be First Lady offering the fist bump to her husband was akin to a “terrorist’s fist jab.”
“Let me tell you, I’m not that hip. I got this from the young staff,” Michelle Obama said that year on ABC’s “The View.” “That’s the new high-five.”
Now, it’s the new handshake.
Santa Claus fist-bumped kids this year in lieu of trips to his lap. Heads of state from around the world — Japan, China, Malaysia, Canada, Kenya, France, Greece, Cyprus and many more — openly fist-bumped in 2020. Even in the demonstrations that dominated much of the year in the U.S., as racial tensions and cries to end social inequality reached new heights following the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police, cops and protesters sometimes would tap their fists as a sign of compromise or even peace.
“When you think about it, it is definitely weird how we’ve converted and transitioned into doing this, with the fist bump all we do,” Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro said. “But I feel like just everyone across the world … has just gotten used to it and that’s what we do because of the circumstances.”
The handshake has been around for centuries. A widely held belief is that the handshake originated to prove to someone that a person was offering peace and not holding a weapon.
Turns out, maybe they were holding weapons after all.
“The reality of it is, in modern times, you may well be harboring a bio-weapon,” Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group said earlier this year.
Poland’s point mirrors the one Fauci has made repeatedly this year: Hands carry germs, and shaking hands simply exposes someone to the germs of another.
“I never was a big believer in shaking hands,” President Donald Trump said in late March, as the nation was in the earliest throes of the pandemic that has caused more than 330,000 deaths already and with the toll certain to keep climbing. “Once I became a politician, you shake hands and you get a little bit used to it. You don’t have to shake hands anymore with people. That might be something good coming out of this.”
Trump shared a three-fist bump with then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G-20 summit — in 2019, long before we knew what the coronavirus was.
But in 2020, the bump exploded.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell fist-bumped Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Capitol Hill; the prime minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga, fist-bumped Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tokyo; cadets at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York fist-bumped at their graduation.
The player who wins the Memorial golf tournament, hosted by golf great Jack Nicklaus, traditionally gets a handshake from the 18-time major champion. Jon Rahm won the tournament on July 19 and happily accepted a fist bump from Nicklaus, who revealed he battled the coronavirus in March and April.
“I’ve been dreaming of that handshake many times,” Rahm said. “Well, it was a fist bump because of the situation, but still, how many people can say they got a congratulatory fist bump from Jack Nicklaus?”
This year, probably more than ever.
Fitting, it seems, that the fist bump punctuated one of the year’s most significant moments — Biden getting the vaccine that may eventually deliver some normalcy again. Mase said fist-bumping the soon-to-be President of the United States, after he received the vaccine that we can all hope reverts the world to some sort of normal again, “just came naturally.”
“It’s going to be here as long as the pandemic is,” Mase said. “But I do hope we get back to handshakes. As soon as the pandemic goes down, I hope we get back to handshakes and that human connection. But a fist bump is still good. It’s still a human connection. And it’s safe.”