From socially-distanced picnics to hiking excursions, there's been no shortage of outdoor options for singles who want to keep dating during the coronavirus pandemic. As the temperatures drop, however, and many of those activities become less realistic, the question inevitably becomes: Is it safe to have a first date at home during the pandemic?
Just as cuffing season approaches, some restaurants and bars will be shutting down their patios and switching to indoor dining only, barring COVID-related restrictions. While some establishments are adapting to year-round outdoor dining, that varies by guidelines determined state by state. Not only will outdoor date options become increasingly limited, but getting to know someone is a tad less enjoyable when you're shivering in your parka and counting down the minutes until you can thaw out indoors. Naturally, people will be tempted to move their dating lives back inside, potentially even into the comfort of their own homes.
This obviously raises health and safety concerns. As of Oct. 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing masks and practicing social distancing when interacting with people outside your household in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, the agency reports socializing in indoor spaces is more risky than outdoor spaces, because not only is it often more challenging to stay 6 feet apart, but there's also less ventilation.
"The virus is still present," Vincent R. Racaniello, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology, previously told Elite Daily. "You simply don't know if your date is infected, as many infected people don't show symptoms."
According to Racaniello, there's no way to make a first date safer until there's a COVID-19 vaccine. Fortunately, experts say it is possible to maintain an active dating life while protecting yourself — and others. Here's how to do so.
Across the board, medical experts agree it's still best to plan outdoor dates whenever possible — at least in the beginning stages of building trust with someone new. Many people are planning to make the most of outdoor dating, even as cold weather settles in. "I know my dates and I will have to get even more creative," Janel, 28, tells Elite Daily. "I'm already scoping which bars and restaurants have heat lamps for their outdoor seating. It might also mean a few more FaceTime dates until we meet in person."
But if you do plan on hanging out indoors, there are ways to curb your risks. Shanina Knighton, Ph.D., a clinical nurse scientist/infection preventionist, suggests looking at your date spot's site or calling ahead to find out what they're doing to ensure patrons' safety. She also recommends planning dates during off-peak hours — a late lunch or early-bird special avoids the peak dinner rush.
Since coronavirus case numbers vary significantly across states and cities, it's a good idea to assess the spread in your local community. On Oct. 23, the CDC reported the number of COVID-19 cases had risen significantly since September, particularly in the Southeastern and Central regions of the country. As the New York Times reported on Oct. 27, the average number of cases diagnosed per day is 40% higher than it was two weeks ago. Staying on top of these numbers in your region is one way to assess the risks an indoor date would present.
Keep in mind, too, that not all indoor locations are created equal. You'll have a lower chance of contracting the virus in a well-ventilated setting with adequate air supply and exhaust vents. Not sure how safe a space is? You can call ahead to ask.
Also, while it's obviously impossible to wear a mask while you're enjoying a meal, there are other indoor dates that make mask-wearing possible — like, say, taking a socially-distanced stroll around a museum. Keep in mind, too, that any indoor activities that involve crowds where it's not possible to remain 6 feet apart pose the highest risk for contraction, according to the CDC.
Of course, there may come a time when you want to invite your crush back to your place to get to know each other in a more private setting. Before this happens, Knighton and Dr. Abraar Karan, M.D., internal medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, recommend having an honest discussion about personal risk factors: who you and your date live with, if anyone is immunocompromised, how many people you each come into contact with regularly, if either of you has traveled recently, and your views on masks and social distancing.
"If you are dating someone with an 'I don’t care' or 'I don’t take it seriously' attitude and you don’t match those views, you may already feel uncomfortable and exposed just by being around that person," Knighton explains. "Trust is already compromised if you both do not agree on how to keep each other safe."
While it might feel awkward to express your concerns or ask about your date's day-to-day safety precautions, experts agree you have a right to know what they're doing to protect themselves before putting your health at risk.
Should you decide you feel comfortable inviting your date into your home (or visiting theirs), Knighton strongly advises establishing a specific hand hygiene protocol (such as requiring all guests to sanitize or wash their hands immediately upon entry into your home and before exiting). She also recommends keeping windows and doors open as much as possible to minimize risk. Using a portable air-cleaning device may also help to reduce your chance of exposure to any virus particles.
Communicate What's On Your Mind
Elizabeth, 28, feels safer inviting her date over than she does going on public indoor dates (where she's exposed to more strangers), but worries this can come across as "presumptuous." She says, "I'm working on figuring out that necessary balance between having fun and being safe."
Julie Spira, online dating expert and author of Love in the Age of Trump: How Politics is Polarizing Relationships, advises having at least a few dates with someone before bringing them into your home so you can establish a rapport and build some trust first. Since you're far more likely to hook up if you're hanging out at home, she says it's also important to determine how far you'd like things to go ahead of time. What if your date wants to cuddle? What if they try to kiss you? Once you have a handle on your boundaries, Knighton suggests communicating these to your date so you're both on the same page (and you can avoid any potentially stressful or even dangerous misunderstandings).
"It's essential to have a convo about pandemic-safe dating and safe sex if you think your date could lead to something physical," she adds. "If someone doesn't respect your safe boundaries, take a pass and let them know you don't think you're on the same page. If sex is not on the table, suggest a socially-distanced indoor date, where you sit on opposite sides of the sofa. At some point, you may end up in each other's arms, but by setting the game rules upfront, you won't find yourself in an awkward situation that you might regret."
Get Tested... But Don't Rely On It
Getting tested is obviously the easiest solution before planning an indoor date or inviting your love interest back to your place — which is made easier if you're able to access a rapid test. The traditional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests can take at least several days to get results back, which means there's always a chance you may have contracted the virus between taking the test and going on your date. The safest option if you have a traditional PCR test and receive negative results is to quarantine from the time of your test until your date.
For this reason, it's worth looking into whether rapid testing is available at your local urgent care center, walk-in clinic, or CVS. Since rapid tests typically offer results within just 30 minutes, you could both take the test the same day as your date for peace of mind. These tests are designed to identify people who are at the peak of the infection when levels of the virus tend to be high in the body — but it's important to note they also aren't quite as sensitive as traditional PCR tests.
If you want to maintain an active dating life but you don't feel comfortable dating indoors quite yet, virtual dates are still a viable option for testing out your chemistry and building a connection.
Understand Your Risks
Dr. Amesh Adalja, M.D., FIDSA, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who specializes in emerging infectious diseases and pandemic preparedness, previously told Elite Daily only you can decide what feels safe to you since every social interaction (in the absence of a vaccine) comes with some level of risk. However, one thing's for sure — dating now requires serious reflection on your own risk tolerance, as well as a pinch of creativity when it comes to making plans. Tiffany, 26, is willing to take that risk — on some level. “I’m definitely still going to try to put myself out there [this winter] and see if guys would be down for coffee walks with coats and hats in Central Park or wine nights on Zoom."
Ultimately, experts say you may just need to weigh the risk against your feelings about your date. "In the current climate, it is important for you to ask if the person is worth it," adds Knighton. Dating may be more challenging heading into late fall and winter, but the pandemic can't cancel love. Think of it this way: If anything, navigating romance during this tricky time will likely help you to form an even closer bond from the get-go, not to mention get a stronger gauge on whether your date's lifestyle, attitude, and values align with yours.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.
Vincent R. Racaniello, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology
Dr. Amesh Adalja, M.D., doctor of medicine and senior scholar
Dr. Abraar Karan, M.D., internal medicine physician
Shanina Knighton, Ph.D., clinical nurse scientist/infection preventionist
Julie Spira, online dating expert