The American Lung Association shared a video that offered five alternatives to the handshake: the elbow bump, the foot tap, the head nod, the yoga bow, and the wave. The “Wuhan shake”—bumping shoes, rather than shaking hands—has gone viral. So have other tongue-in-cheek alternatives to hand-shaking. On his show in early March, Stephen Colbert suggested “the selfie” (in which you shake hands with yourself) and “the intern” (in which you outsource the hand-shaking to someone else). The satirical magazine Broadway Beat (“Fake Broadway News for Real Broadway Newsies”) recently suggested that the best replacement for a handshake is jazz hands. “If we have any hope of saving the world from this crippling disease,” the magazine wrote, “by God, it is with sassy, interpretative movement.”

Handshakes—along with so many other arbitrary norms—have fallen out of favor before. In the 1920s, after the influenza epidemic that killed millions of people around the world, the American Journal of Nursing began warning that hands could function as vectors of bacterial transfer. It recommended that Americans adapt the Chinese custom at the time: to shake one’s own hands together as a gesture of friendship and trust. Following an epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia in the late 1800s, the publisher Mathew Carey noted, “The old custom of shaking hands fell into such general disuse, that many shrank back with affright at even the offer of the hand.” In the 15th century, the bubonic plague led Britain’s King Henry VI to ban the custom of kissing on the cheeks as a mode of greeting. The historian Thucydides, writing of a plague in Athens, observed how efficiently disease could compel people to change behaviors that had been honed into habits. “As the disaster deepened,” he wrote, “men became utterly careless of everything, whether sacred or profane.”