Etiquette in the time of coronavirus

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Coronavirus Etiquette: Face Masks, Working From Home and More

Coronavirus Etiquette: Face Masks, Working From Home and More

There’s a whole new etiquette rule book
Etiquette in the time of coronavirus

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

There are certain rules of etiquette that feel like no-brainers. You shake someone’s hand when meeting them or you hold open the door for strangers. But during the coronavirus pandemic, following social distancing guidelines and other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations means the rules have changed. To find out how to best conduct oneself, The Active Times spoke with Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette and culture expert, and consulted Emily Post on how to maneuver during these uncertain times.

Safety comes before etiquette

Safety comes before etiquette

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Certain behaviors are ingrained in polite people: You hold open the door for strangers and shake hands when making an introduction. However, Emily Post notes that during this trying time, personal safety and guidelines from the CDC and World Health Organization come before classic rules of etiquette.

Be compassionate

Be compassionate

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You never know what someone else is going through during the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe someone they know is sick and they’re not sure what to do. Or maybe they lost their job or health insurance. Show respect to others regardless of where you see them.

Stand 6 feet apart

Stand 6 feet apart

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Making sure you properly social distance in public isn’t just a CDC guideline, it’s also a courtesy to your fellow humans. However, adapting to this behavior may be a struggle. “One of the first things we need to be aware of is space and personal distance,” Schweitzer said. “We are an arms-length culture. We naturally walk up to people and have a conversation about an arm’s-length distance away in business and social settings. That is a change that may become our new normal post-COVID.” Maintaining 6 feet of distance (or more) doesn’t mean you can’t show your family and friends you love them during COVID-19; here’s how.

Be wary of asking others to move

Be wary of asking others to move

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What should you do if, for instance, you’re standing on a street corner and another walker stands a little too close to you? Schweitzer advises against asking others to move, since you won’t know how they’ll react. Instead, it’s up to you to be proactive and create distance if you feel uncomfortable.

It can be OK to be direct

It can be OK to be direct

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If you’re in a situation where you can’t necessarily move, like in line at the grocery store or the pharmacy, it’s OK to politely ask someone to step back as you finish your checkout transaction. Just be sure to act with kindness, calmness and politeness and use those classic nice words you teach your kids: “please” and “thank you.”

Use body language and kind words

Use body language and kind words

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It’s important to be as positive as possible when interacting with others. If, for instance, you’re moving away from someone else walking through the park, give them a little nod or wave to show that you’re friendly. Or, if you choose to speak to them, remember to say “sorry,” “excuse me” or “pardon me.”

Wear a face mask

Wear a face mask

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Etiquette is all about being considerate of those around you. During the coronavirus pandemic, that means that you should wear a cloth face covering when in public and when social distancing is not possible. You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick. If you’re new to this article of clothing, here’s how to wear a face mask correctly.

You can ask workers who come to your home to wear masks

You can ask workers who come to your home to wear masks

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There are some home maintenance tasks you just should not do yourself. And busted gas pipes, blown fuses and leaky roofs don’t care if there’s a pandemic. If a maintenance worker needs to come to your home during this time, ask them if they’re planning to bring or wear a mask, Schweitzer advises. If they say no out of claustrophobia or because they have COPD or another medical condition, you can ask the company to send another service provider on the team. Just be sure you follow the same rules: Wear a mask when opening the door and maintain a safe social distance when speaking with them.

Practice good hygiene

Practice good hygiene

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Having good hygiene habits like washing your hands correctly, not rubbing your eyes or picking your nose, and keeping a tidy home are all classic rules of etiquette. Making sure you wash your hands when you come home, after you use the restroom or before you eat is more important now than ever. Do so with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.

Cover your coughs and sneezes

Cover your coughs and sneezes

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Another CDC guideline that is also just general politeness is to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow. This is particularly important when in a private setting or when caring for someone with coronavirus.

Log in early when working from home

Log in early when working from home

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It’s important to establish a routine when working from home. Log in to work and settle in slightly before your starting time so you have time to sip on your coffee and read a few emails before you dive into your day.

Dial into virtual meetings early

Dial into virtual meetings early

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In addition to firing up your laptop before work starts, one of the standard rules of etiquette also applies to virtual meetings: be a few minutes early. “People fail to get online five or 10 minutes early and just sign on at the time of the meeting or one minute before the meeting not realizing most people sign on early,” Schweitzer said. Even if you do other work before the meeting starts or chat with co-workers casually, be in the virtual meeting room before you need to be.

Mute yourself

Mute yourself

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The very first rule of video conference etiquette: mute yourself. “Sign on and put yourself on mute so that any paper shuffling, conversations you may be having or background noises are not shared with everybody else online,” Schweitzer said.

When on a conference call, stay still

When on a conference call, stay still

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You may be the sort of person who paces on the phone or thinks a 45-minute one-on-one meeting is the perfect time for a socially distanced walk through your neighborhood, but when on the phone or a video chat, stay still. “Some parts of your house may have really good coverage and others may not,” Schweitzer noted. “You can’t just put it on mute and walk around your house and yard, because you’ll be going in and out of hotspots and your voice may change.”

Feel free to say ‘no’ to in-person meetings

Feel free to say ‘no’ to in-person meetings

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The business world has been rapidly adjusting during the coronavirus pandemic. “We’re seeing big changes with business relationships,” Schweitzer said. “Now, business relations are meeting over Skype and Zoom and people are saying ‘no’ to in-person meetings. Just make sure you know how to maintain business relationships and follow the standard office etiquette rules when working remotely.

Greet others using distance

Greet others using distance

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Greeting someone with a handshake, hug or air kiss is the norm most of the time, but doing so now for people who do not live in your household goes against CDC guidelines. Stop the spread of germs by waving, bowing or using prayer hands to express yourself. If someone tries to reach out to you, politely tell them you're practicing social distancing but are incredibly happy to see them.

Know how to approach an invite

Know how to approach an invite

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If your friends are grilling up steaks and burgers for a Memorial Day weekend picnic, but you don’t feel comfortable attending, you are free to politely decline, saying you would typically love to come but are going to have to miss this year due to COVID-19.

Know how to let attendees know an event is canceled

Know how to let attendees know an event is canceled

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If you’re canceling your wedding, birthday party or any other celebration, notify attendees using the same mode of communication as your original invite. If you sent something in the mail, mail a postcard about your delay. If you sent an e-vite, send an email blast. If you have other modes of communication, supplement. And don’t be too bummed out — there are still ways to celebrate special occasions at home during the pandemic.

How to decline an invite you’d previously agreed to

How to decline an invite you’d previously agreed to

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If your cousin has a wedding in another state in, say, September, that has yet to be canceled but you don’t want to travel this year, it’s important to send a heartfelt apology in the same mode of communication that you received your invite. And if you did get an invitation via email or snail mail, follow up with a personal phone call sending your regrets, Schweitzer advised. If you can afford it, it is also advisable to send a gift, especially for major life events like a wedding, baby shower or graduation.

You don’t have to hold open doors ...

You don’t have to hold open doors ...

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Typically, one rude habit you need to ditch by age 30 is allowing doors to shut when someone else is approaching. But during the coronavirus pandemic, your safety and the safety of those around you is more important than being polite. Schweitzer said to kindly let the person know you’re not trying to slam a door in their face. “Kindly tell them, ‘Normally I’d hold the door for you, but I’d be within 6 feet.’”

… Or elevators

… Or elevators

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You also don’t need to hold the elevator doors for someone who is behind you. Schweitzer recommends kindly telling the person behind you that allowing them in the same elevator as you would defy social distancing guidelines. To be the most polite person, send the elevator back down to their floor when you get off.

Don’t shame others for their behavior

Don’t shame others for their behavior

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As certain states start to ease social distancing measures, it’s easy to judge from behind your computer screen. If you’re tempted to ask a Facebook friend why they aren’t wearing a face mask as they pick up takeout or want to shame someone for eating out when their state reopens dining, stop yourself. “It’s not our place to shame … It shows insecurity,” Schweitzer said. “People need to be able to enjoy life. If they want to engage with others and they feel comfortable doing that and aren’t putting others at risk, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to shame someone else.”

Never correct anyone else

Never correct anyone else

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“One of the first things we learned in etiquette is never to shame anyone else or change someone else’s behavior,” Schweitzer shared. If you’re at the grocery store and see someone walking around with their mask around their chin or your wife only washed her hands for 12 seconds after coming home from work, refrain from scolding their behavior.

Tip generously

Tip generously

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If you’re ordering takeout, getting large packages delivered or frequenting a local cafe to support them right now, it’s important to remember to tip generously. Start by tipping either 20% or $5, whichever is the higher amount. If you’re looking for some inspiration for what food to order next, here are the most popular foods America is ordering for delivery during the coronavirus pandemic.

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