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How to Date During Coronavirus, According to an Epidemiologist

[Editor’s note: this post was published on Wednesday, March 11. We urge readers to abide by guidelines issued in their local areas since then.]

An epidemic can turn your everyday life upside down. Here’s what you need to know about dating and meeting new people during the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

By Dr. Seema Yasmin

Seema Yasmin is an Emmy Award-winning medical journalist, doctor, and former Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is Director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative and Clinical Assistant Professor in Stanford’s Department of Medicine. Find her on Twitter @DoctorYasmin and on Instagram @drseemayasmin.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

Epidemics change the way we interact with each other, sometimes pushing us apart when we’re most in need of distraction and intimacy. If you’re thinking of canceling a date, or changing the way you date because of the new coronavirus, here’s what you need to know.

The virus spreads through droplets that spray into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can travel about three to six feet (one to two yards) at most, which is why health officials in places with community spread, such as Seattle, Wash., in the U.S., are suggesting social distancing. This means staying three to six feet away from people with symptoms, avoiding busy gatherings, and working from home if at all possible.

If you’re confined to your home for days, you certainly have more time on your hands to plan a date with someone you met on a dating app. But should you cancel? If you’re sick, absolutely. This is routine advice for any time of the year — even when not in the midst of an epidemic. If you have symptoms of a cold or flu, stay at home and limit contact with others.

If you’re not sick, it’s perfectly reasonable to check with your date if they are sick. You’ll be surprised at just how many people soldier through illness potentially infecting others because of their need to work (no thanks to lousy sick leave policies) or desire to socialize.

Since the new coronavirus can spread from people with even mild symptoms , it’s important to ask your date if they have any, offering them a rain check if they do. That might feel awkward, but it shouldn’t — it’s an important way to protect your health. 

There are, of course, alternatives to meeting in person. If you’re anxious about being in a crowded bar, go old school and have a long phone conversation. If you don’t feel comfortable giving out your number to someone you’ve never met, try using Bumble’s voice call option or video chat feature within the app.

If you do meet in person, follow the advice of public health organizations and avoid shaking hands. (In fact, experts are encouraging “footshakes” as an alternative. Your call!) And if you turn up to find your date coughing and looking unwell, you can advise them to practice good cough hygiene (coughing into a tissue or the crook of their elbow) then politely get out of there. 

Epidemics are often accompanied by incorrect, bigoted beliefs surrounding disease and contagion. Sadly, coronavirus is no different. There have been reports of racism against Asians over the past two months all over the world, in cities as far apart as Sydney, London, and New York. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has communicated just how stressful and even dangerous this sort of stigma can be for those on the receiving end. Empathy and kindness in your dating practice are always important, and now more than ever. 

If there’s local spread of the virus within your community — which is hard to know at the moment because of unavailable or delayed tests, in the U.S. at least — your best bet would be to meet in a public place that isn’t too busy, like a park, and stay three to six feet apart.

Public health experts, me included, caution to watch out for symptoms, follow common sense advice, but try to live your life as normally as possible. I’ve investigated numerous epidemics and I know that it’s not just disease that spreads, but confusion, fear and anxiety, too. Epidemics change the way we interact, but they highlight the need for radical compassion, laughter and companionship.