While areas around the U.S. — and the world — are in the midst of reopening, social distancing is going to be a thing for a while. Throw in meeting people in a romantic capacity, and how we interact in a COVID-affected world becomes particularly confusing.
However, just as dating found a way to adjust during quarantine, it will adapt to the new rules of meeting matches IRL. Some activities are inherently going to have stricter guidelines than others, but they all share two things in common: keep your damn mask on and give each other some space.
Still, picking up food or sitting in a park are not going to be the same as they once were. The game has changed, and in order to protect everyone’s health, it’s time we properly assess the risks of some of our beloved date activities.
Sitting On A Park Bench
A few weeks ago, Tabitha*, 24, and her boyfriend Pablo*, 25, finally went on a date for the first time since late February. The couple didn’t quarantine together, because Tabitha lives with her parents in New Jersey, while Pablo has an apartment in New York City. When Tabitha felt comfortable enough to make a trip to the city, she had a household member drop her off at Pablo’s place, and the two decided to spend some time outdoors (with masks) at a park. However, it didn’t come without challenges.
“It was stressful since certain places were crowded and some people weren’t wearing masks,” says Tabitha. “We did our best to avoid them and find a bench to sit at. But even then I wasn’t super sure how risky benches could be.”
Tabitha’s concern about surfaces is valid, although the majority of COVID transmission happens person-to-person, as confirmed by the CDC. However, the CDC also says that “current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.”
And with social distance demanding you and your date be at least six feet apart from each other, finding a suitable spot can be tricky.
“Sharing a bench [usually] requires being [less] than six feet apart,” says Kathryn Jacobsen, MPH, Ph.D., a global health and community health professor at George Mason University. So while you don’t have to avoid all parks (or beaches, or the like), finding some grass or an empty patch of sand to chat and relax is your best bet.
Working Out Together Outdoors
If you’re both active people, a date that involves physical activity can be appealing, but it can also carry some risks depending on how close you get. Close-contact sports like basketball and football naturally have a higher risk, as do activities like volleyball and tossing a frisbee that share equipment and gear.
“Frequent closeness between players may make it more difficult to maintain social distancing, compared to sports where players are not close to each other,” according to the CDC. “It is also possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it. Minimize equipment sharing and clean and disinfect shared equipment between use by different people to reduce the risk.”
Jacobsen recommends sports like tennis and golf “where adequate physical distance can be maintained at all times” and you can remain in the open air.
Swimming In A Private Pool
Like most people, Tabitha and Pablo were ready to beat the heat at some friends’ pools this summer, but they’re now reconsidering this option. However, Amira Roess, MPH, a global health and epidemiology professor at George Mason University, says that swimming carries a low risk, so long as you continue to social distance.
Keep your damn mask on and give each other some space.
“You still want to avoid getting close to individuals that are not part of your household,” says Roess. That means staying in your swim lane — literally.
According to the CDC, there is currently no evidence that COVID can spread through water. Additionally, properly maintaining a pool with chlorine should “inactivate” the virus.
Getting Curbside Pickup And Eating Outdoors
For the past few weeks, Felix*, 24, has been using dating apps to connect with new people and pick up food with them at restaurants that provide this service.
“I haven’t had any issues,” says Felix. “My dates and I usually decide which restaurant we want to grab food from beforehand while making sure it’s within reasonable distance [of our homes] to minimize our time outside. I also always have my mask [on] and hand sanitizer available.”
For the most part, Felix has been following proper procedure when going on these dates. Roess says that a curbside pickup dinner date is generally pretty safe. Eating the food outdoors is also perfectly fine, so long as you don’t do it somewhere crowded or too close to one another.
“It is recommended that when you go to pick up takeout that you maintain social distance, avoid crowded restaurants, wear a mask, and wipe down containers [before eating],” says Roess.
Eating Outside At A Limited-Capacity Restaurant
As outdoor dining season arrives in much of the U.S. and restaurants reopen with tables further apart both indoors and outdoors, eating out is once again an option. But even if regulations are enforced in these places, Felix is still unsure if eating at a table where multiple people have sat — regardless of whether it is outside — is safe.
“I would only consider it if the restaurant was low-key and maybe if it was during the week,” says Felix.
Eating at any restaurant carries some risk depending on how long a previous party was sitting at the table, and how clean utensils and surfaces are. However, an outdoor restaurant that’s properly following guidelines is less risky than a table indoors.
“Eating outdoors carries a lower risk because you have greater ventilation,” says Roess. “But you’re still going to want to avoid sharing food and limit your interactions to individuals at your table.”
Eating Inside At A Limited-Capacity Restaurant
Plain and simple: Thanks to limited space, eating indoors, even at a restaurant that has reduced capacity, is going to be dangerous.
“As much as I really want to go and sit somewhere to eat, I’m worried about being in close proximity to people indoors,” says Tabitha.
Her concern is valid. It isn’t to say that restaurants won’t do their best to keep things as sanitary as possible — it’s just that you’re naturally more at risk in a closed space. Roess recommends, at least for the time being, to try to avoid eating indoors, since you won’t have as much ventilation and space. Jacobsen agrees that it’s probably best to hold off until a vaccine or effective treatment options are available.
“We’re not in a post-COVID-19 world yet,” says Jacobsen. “It’s going to be a while until we can resume normal routines from before the pandemic.”
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.