Safely Socializing During COVID-19
An infectious disease doctor shares advice on how to navigate socializing and dating during the pandemic.
Whether you spent the past few months sheltering-in-place or working at an essential job, your spring was probably defined by trying to avoid COVID-19 . . . and you probably feel ready for a break.
Pandemic fatigue is real, and with summer here it’s understandable that you want to let your guard down, spend more time with friends, and, if you’re single, even date. But the virus isn’t gone just because we are experiencing COVID-fatigue. As states have re-opened and young, healthy people have started socializing again, we’ve seen infections in people in their 20s and 30s begin to rise.
So I thought I’d explain, with some up-to-date expert advice, how you can re-engage while maintaining a low risk of infection with COVID-19. The following are some reasonable approaches for indulging your pent-up desire to socialize, while minimizing your risk of exposure to what remains an ongoing health threat.
Cover Your Face Whenever You Can
It’s too bad that masks have become politicized, because when people simply cover their noses and mouths it dramatically reduces virus transmission. In some locales, the practice is now required; where it is not, mask wearing should be considered an expression of concern about the health and well-being of others, as transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens is significantly diminished while wearing a mask.
This should be an easy one for the next few months. The science suggests that catching the virus is dramatically less likely in outdoor environments vs. indoor ones — a presumption backed up by preliminary observations that the massive street protests of late May and early June did not lead to a significant uptick in new infections. So if you meet up with friends, do it at a park or the beach, or even a backyard. There you can maintain reasonable distance while enjoying the company you’ve been missing. If you choose to go to a restaurant or bar, elect for one with a patio or outdoor seating. And if you do spend time indoors with people outside your household, sit near an open window and spaced six feet apart. This will of course get harder in the fall once the weather cools, so take advantage of summer weather and celebrate your social life outside.
Pick a “Quaran-team”
You’ve probably heard this term, or others like “COVID bubble,” to describe the concept of choosing a small group of friends, or other families, to socialize with. While this can be hard to put into practice in a consistent way, it is smart to limit the number of people with whom you interact. Some may be more comfortable with a “buddy” approach, or sharing closer space with an individual vs. a small group. In either case, within such small circles, it may be more reasonable to alter strict practices such as mask wearing and the 6-foot interpersonal distance rule; but while lowering your guard among a smaller circle, good communication is required within the group to advise one another of any concerning COVID-related symptoms or unusual exposures a group member may have experienced.
If you’re single and looking to mingle — whether just to meet someone or have sex with new partners, it’s unrealistic to advise you to remain celibate until there’s a proven COVID-19 vaccine. But you should talk to partners or potential partners about COVID-19 risk: Any recent symptoms such as cough, malaise, or fever, and/or likelihood of exposure to those who might be infected. Recognizing that 5-6 days is the median incubation (gap between exposure and symptoms) period, with 14 days being the outside bound, that special someone’s lack of symptoms throughout such an interval is reassuring; that said, some are known to acquire COVID-19 and remain without symptoms longer, during which time transmission is possible. We all engage in risk-based decision-making on a daily basis, and as such these facts should be kept in mind when thinking about new romantic and/or sex partners.
Evaluate Risk vs. Benefit for YOU
If you have underlying medical conditions that put you at risk of severe COVID-19 infection, or live with an elderly relative or somebody with a condition that puts them at greater risk, then the risk of socializing might be outweighed by your obligations to these vulnerable persons. That said, for a young, healthy person who lives alone and is feeling depressed from isolation, then continuing to self-isolate could be more dangerous than taking the calculated risks of socializing (while following the precautions above). As mentioned, we confront personal risk assessment continually in life, and COVID-19 simply presents higher stakes than we might be used to. Re-entry anxiety is as potent a consideration for some as is the perils of social isolation — thus, the assessment of comfort vs. risk is individualized. Epidemiologist Julia Marcus of Harvard discusses the “spectrum of risk” in a way that may be helpful. And your Nurx clinician, or other healthcare provider, can be a source of advice if these risk/benefit considerations beg for input.
Mind Local Testing Trends
To understand your risk of encountering somebody with COVID-19, keep an eye on the numbers in your community. Instead of just looking at the number of cases (people infected), pay attention to the percentage of tests in your community that are positive, and whether that number is trending up or down.
If the percent of positive tests in your community is above 5% you should be very careful. If it’s less than that, and trending down, you can feel a little more comfortable safely socializing. The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center provides a useful analysis of test positivity by state, to guide your understanding about how such trends reflect on risk of acquiring COVID-19.
Watch This Space
Nurx will keep you informed of changes in COVID-19 trends, personal risk considerations, and emerging options for testing, prevention, and treatment. Our main blog post on COVID-19, first published in February 2020, provides some of these baseline resources. Understanding of COVID-19 is shifting under our feet, and Nurx is committed to helping you understand how to minimize your risk while recognizing that (masked) life must go on.
About the Author
Chris Hall is a board-certified infectious disease physician who is Senior Medical Advisor for Nurx. Learn more about Chris, his commitment to HIV care and prevention, and his work with Nurx.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.