Dating and hanging out with friends was hard enough when all you had to overcome was the Seattle Freeze. Now, in the midst of the pandemic, finding ways to safely socialize has become a Herculean (and often scary) task.
While Washington’s Phase 2 guidelines allow King County residents to gather in groups with up to five people outside of their household, there are still health risks associated with being around others.
“This virus capitalizes on close contact, particularly in closed spaces, and then amplifies if you have a crowd,” says Dr. Jared Baeten, an infectious disease specialist at Harborview Medical Center.
A July report from the Washington State Department of Health found that COVID-19 cases are increasing fastest among people 20 to 29 years old, and the Greater Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (SCAN) released results showing a large proportion of participants tested positive for COVID-19 despite not coming into contact with someone who had or suspected having the disease.
In other words, many people — and especially younger people — are contracting COVID-19 from friends, family and strangers who don’t have any symptoms.
If you can’t be sure of who has the virus, how do you even begin to think about hanging out with friends or going on a date?
While the safest option for you and the community remains staying at home, this may not be realistic for you at all times. To help keep things safer for all involved, Baeten share tips on dating and seeing friends during the pandemic.
Start with communication
You’ve likely heard that communication is the key to a solid relationship, and this adage has never been truer than in the midst of the pandemic.
It may feel awkward to ask your friend or date about their recent activities and COVID-19 comfort levels, but having an honest conversation about what you are both comfortable with is important to do before you decide to hang out.
First, figure out your own comfort levels.
Are you OK meeting indoors or would you prefer to be outside? Are you OK if your friend or date is seeing other people who live outside of their household, or are you only comfortable merging bubbles with that one individual?
Once you know where you stand, check in with your friend.
Baeten recommends something as simple as, “Hey, this is what I’ve been doing and this is where my comfort level starts and ends — what about you?”
Other potential questions can include who else they’ve been seeing, what safety precautions they are taking and what safety precautions the people currently in their bubble (the people they are quarantining with and living with) are taking.
If you’re thinking about going on a date, this conversation also means being transparent about sex and intimacy.
Asking your date about their recent sexual history (and sharing your own) before you’ve met face to face might feel like a tall order for a pre-date chat, but Baeten stresses that you don’t need to be embarrassed and that these conversations get easier the more you have them.
And if you aren’t ready to dive into the topic, you can suggest starting with a virtual hangout. This will allow you to get to know your recent match a bit better before you meet in person and thus need to have that COVID-19 safety conversation.
Minimize risk of exposure
If you do decide to meet in person with friends or a date, there are some steps you can take to limit your chances of contracting or spreading the virus.
“The point of taking precautions and an important thing with preventing the spread of coronavirus is that it doesn’t have to be perfection or failure,” Baeten says. “You don’t have to be 100% perfect 100% of the time and then if you can’t do that give up and do nothing.”
The idea is to do as much as you can to limit your exposure, even if you are deciding to socialize.
“If you’re going to be socializing, outside is better than inside. Socializing with the same people over and over again is way better than different people all the time,” Baeten notes.
Say you are going on a date where you and your partner have discussed not wearing a mask.
You can still bring a mask with you and wear it to and from the date to protect others you may encounter during your commute.
Or if you’re looking to get physical with a partner, you can limit the number of people you engage with on a day-to-day basis by opting to cook food and work out at home instead of going to a restaurant or gym. This way, you will be less likely to contract the virus in your daily life and then unknowingly pass it on to your partner when you’re being intimate.
And if you are hanging out with friends, where physical intimacy may be less crucial than during a date, consider keeping your mask on and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance.
No matter who you’re seeing, outdoor activities are a great way to cut down on the risk of spread and keep some distance without it feeling too awkward or unnatural.
While popular hikes like Mount Si are swarming with people, there are plenty of lesser known options just outside of the city. Physically distant picnics, walks and even spreading out on kayaks or paddle boards are also safer options.
Know when to pause
You’ve had the discussion about safety, you’ve planned an outdoor get-together and then the day of, you wake up with a scratchy throat. Ugh.
Canceling is likely the last thing you want to do, especially if you are feeling fine overall, but this is a case where it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“While even if you get COVID-19 you may be lucky, the individuals who are exposed might not be,” Baeten says.
Staying home when you have any symptoms of COVID-19, even small things like the start of sore throat, helps protect the entire community. This is especially important for protecting people who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19, like grandparents or a friend who is immunocompromised.
It also keeps you safe.
Even though younger folks are less likely to have severe symptoms than older individuals, symptoms like fatigue, a cough and headaches can linger for months — and some young people have died.
Plus, when you are feeling healthy again, you can meet with your friend knowing you’ve done everything you can to keep them safe.
“Every little thing that we do chips away at the virus’ ability to jump from person to person,” Baeten says. “Do all kinds of small things and weave them together for you personally and for all us people in Seattle; together, we will beat the virus.”