The art of 'social distancing' inside the Washington Beltway

Lawmakers are opting for the elbow bump over the handshake.

It's a sign of the times.

Chairs for reporters in the Pentagon briefing room, usually side-by-side, on Tuesday were placed roughly three feet apart. Even the military briefers stood well apart from each other on the podium.

With health experts advising "social distancing" to ward off the coronavirus, some of official Washington, but not everyone, was taking heed in a town where crowded news conferences and congressional hearings are the norm and close contact can be unavoidable.

On Capitol Hill, the House attending physician told members of Congress -- who skew older and are more vulnerable to the coronavirus -- they should avoid handshakes and hugs -- not easy for glad-handing politicians.

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At one hearing, Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut elbow bumped with a witness who would know the drill: the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield.

Senators have been seen trying out the elbow bump as well -- even bipartisan ones. On Monday, as Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, was speaking to reporters, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham elbow bumped him as he walked by.

They've even been doing the bump on the Senate floor.

Alabama GOP Sen. Richard Shelby told ABC News he called off going to a big meeting overseas.

"I was supposed to go to Brussels for a NATO meeting and to London, but I cancelled the meeting," Shelby said. "The doctor said ‘stay off those planes as much as we can’, so if any of you are going to Alabama Thursday night, can I get a ride? I’ll ride in the back of the truck with the air."

As Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell came out of his office Tuesday afternoon, he rubbed sanitizer on his hands, saying, "Oh, I do this all the time now."

The 135th annual Gridiron Club dinner, where politicians of all stripes gather with journalists each year to poke fun at each other, was canceled.

And outside the Beltway, the Democratic candidates were cancelling big primary night rallies after doctors advised against holding and attending large gatherings.

But at the White House, any signs of social distancing weren't visible.

More than 100 people, many of them older, packed the East Room for a Medal of Freedom ceremony on Tuesday afternoon with the president officiating and shaking lots of hands.

And later, the White House briefing room was jammed with reporters for the daily update on the crisis.

"In our line of work, you shake hands when someone wants to shake your hand," Pence said. "I expect the president will continue to do it. I'll continue to do it."

ABC News' Trish Turner and Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report.