Running for office is a germfest, and being an expert doesn’t always help.
“You cannot live germ free,” Sen. Bill Cassidy reminded me. He would know — the Republican from Louisiana was a gastroenterologist before coming to the Hill.
“We do the crawfish boil handshake,” Cassidy said of his strategy on the campaign trail. “You bump elbows.”
The joke is that at a real sauce-drenched Louisiana feast, your fingers would get too messy to shake hands anyway. But elbow-bumping is also a medically sound technique, recommended by the World Health Organization during previous outbreaks, from swine flu to ebola. It’s advice that’s popped up once again now that a novel coronavirus is spreading around the globe.
The latest outbreak is coming in an election year, as candidates prepare to do what candidates do. Personal space is hard to come by on the campaign trail, where shaking hands and kissing babies is the proverbial routine. Throw in some meet-and-greets and the occasional close-talker (it’s not just a bit from “Seinfeld”), and elbow-bumping, however dorky, starts to look pretty appealing.
There’s an informal “MD caucus” in Congress. (That’s MD as in doctor of medicine, not MD as in Maryland.) What are they doing to lead by example, whether it’s out on the trail or in the course of their everyday duties at the Capitol?
The answer: Pretty much what they’ve been doing all along. Cassidy, for one, was using hand sanitizer before it was cool. And on Tuesday, he was prepared again, pulling a bottle of Purell out of his bag and offering dollops to reporters. He also showed off some Lysol wipes he uses to clean the area around him when he flies.
“I’m a gastroenterologist; think about what gastroenterologists do all day long. I am almost like Lady Macbeth, washing my hands,” Cassidy said. “That’s before this happened. And I carried the Purell with me before it happened.”
Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, who was once a flight surgeon in the Army, is also a fan of hand sanitizer.
“When I went through chemotherapy in 2015 and was immunocompromised, we kept a jug of hand sanitizer outside my door, and had a strict policy: Everyone had to sanitize before they came in,” he said. “In my office today, we’re doing exactly the same thing.”
Rep. Phil Roe, who worked as an OBGYN, said he tries hard to keep his hands away from his face, but that can be easier said than done for people who wear glasses.
His backup plan is hand sanitizer. “We take a bath in it every time we stop,” he laughed.
Indiana Rep. (and heart surgeon by training) Larry Bucshon doesn’t generally arm himself with sanitizer outside of “large crowds.” He relies more on the age-old soap and water.
Out on the trail, “candidates are the biggest ones who can risk transferring viruses,” said North Carolina Rep. Greg Murphy, who has a background in urology. Elbows bumps are alright, but when it comes to handshake alternatives, his suggestion is even higher difficulty: a “foot bump.”
They’re politicians. They’re doctors. And they still get sick sometimes.
Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.