Quick status update on our re-emergence into a post-COVID world: It turns out, there are a bunch of new social circumstances that feel pretty damn confusing to figure out. (In other words, is it cool to hug my co-worker at happy hour? Or ask if someone is vaccinated? TBD.) That’s why we checked in with Myka Meier, author of Modern Etiquette Made Easy, to find out exactly how to navigate the nuance.
1. Can I Ask Someone If They’re Vaccinated?
Myka Says: Yes. During a global pandemic, your health concerns should overtake social concerns. It can be tricky and awkward to determine how to bring this up before you meet, but it’s also a necessity in order to protect yourself or your loved ones. The way you approach the question depends on your relationship with the person. A general, but direct ask could be: ‘I’m trying to be extra cautious and only making plans with people who are vaccinated at the moment. Are you fully vaccinated?’ or ‘Can you please let me know if you’re fully vaccinated? That will help me decide where we should make plans to meet and if I need to bring my mask.’ You could also approach it by explaining that your concern comes from compassion: ‘I’m trying to protect my parents who are high-risk, and therefore not making plans with anyone un-vaccinated. Can you please let me know if you are fully vaccinated?’ Once the person answers, you can make an educated decision on what you want to do or if you wish to reschedule.
2. Do I Need to Ask Permission to Hug Someone? How About Shake Their Hand?
Myka Says: Watch the body language of the person you are greeting. Are they standoffish or running at you with open arms? If you are comfortable hugging, you can simply approach the person while asking, ‘Are you hugging or still keeping distance?’ and then follow their lead. The same goes for a handshake. If it seems like the person you’re approaching is reaching out (and you feel comfortable yourself), go for it. But you can also respectfully ask: ‘Are you OK with a handshake?’ Then, let the other person advise on their comfort level and what they prefer.
3. How Should You Navigate Mask-Wearing Now That Mask Mandates Are Lifted?
Myka Says: If you are fully vaccinated and a store, office or restaurant has a ‘mask optional’ sign up, then do as you feel most comfortable. If there is a sign clearly stating ‘enter only with a mask on,’ you should show respect by following the guidelines set by the building’s management. Mask etiquette is simply about showing respect to other people while keeping yourself safe, too. As for whether or not you prefer to continue wearing one even though you’re vaccinated, don’t feel pressure to explain why. If you want to have an answer at the ready, you can simply say something along the lines of, ‘I’m being extra cautious!’ and then change the subject. In general, it’s important to remember that people have varying comfort levels and, after such a traumatic time period, it may take time for some people to adjust, which is their prerogative. It’s worth noting that it could be considered invasive to ask someone why they are wearing a mask, as everyone has their own reasons and we should respect that.
4. How Should You Handle Desk-Sharing?
Myka Says: Wipe down shared items after use such as landline phones and conferencing systems. You should also follow any mask guidelines set by your HR department and try not to share communal items like scissors, pens or tape dispensers. Instead, request your own set that you can tuck in a desk drawer. Bottom line: Do your best to keep the space tidy and organized. (And, if it helps your comfort level, you could always ask your company about cleaning protocol.)