Normally, when you start seeing going on dates with someone new, the big question on your mind might be about when to invite them back to your place, or when to introduce them to your friends and family. But in 2020 (and likely beyond), it's this: When is it OK to take off your mask while dating? In a COVID-19 world, wearing a mask is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself and your date, as well as other loved ones in both of your lives. So, at what point can you remove it with little risk? Experts say it depends on the situation — who you live with, whether either of you or your roomies are immunocompromised, and where you're going on dates.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cloth face coverings are "one of the most powerful weapons we have" to slow and stop the spread of the virus. The CDC continues to recommend wearing them in public settings and around anyone who doesn't live with you, especially when you're not staying 6 feet apart. While you may have gotten kind of used to the idea of wearing a mask on dates (because it hides that zit on your chin and your makeup routine takes less time), there may also come a point when you're eager to see your date flash a flirtatious smile, or even share a spontaneous kiss.
Figuring out the right time to remove your mask will be different for everyone, which is what makes this such a complex subject.
"No one wants to be the culprit of giving someone COVID-19 due to being too relaxed," explains Shanina Knighton, a clinical nurse scientist/infection preventionist. "I always say it's best to assume that you have it and that you must protect others and to assume everyone else has it and you need to protect you.”
In the absence of federal guidelines, people are left to their own devices to figure out what's best. "It all depends on a person’s individual risk tolerance," explains Amesh Adalja, MD, FIDSA — a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "There are no specific rules that you can actually follow other than if you’re sick, don’t take it off."
That said, experts agree that there are certain factors you can take into account to guide your decision. For one, Knighton says that if you or your date is immunocompromised for any reason (or anyone living in either of your households is), it's too risky to take off the mask. Unless you've both been quarantined and only seeing each other, there's no way of knowing if one of you has contracted it already and merely hasn't shown symptoms yet.
If that's not an issue, it's important to get a handle on their lifestyle. How vigilant have they been about washing their hands? Have they been practicing social distancing? Does their job involve interacting with people all day long? For example, Knighton notes that a grocery store worker might be exposed to more risk than someone who just works from home every day.
These are the types of things to talk about before deciding to remove your masks. While it may feel awkward to ask these questions at first, think of it as just another compatibility test. In discussing your day-to-day behaviors, you might get some important insight into whether you share similar values.
"Family interactions and roommate interactions will be factors too," adds Knighton. "For example, if they live with someone, you may want to ask “does your XYZ (roommate, mom, brother, friend) share the same viewpoints as you regarding COVID-19 and prevention?"
Another thing to keep in mind is where your dates go down. Both Dr. Adalja and Knighton agree that transmission is less likely in outdoor settings, so that's an excellent reason to go for a stroll by a local lake or have a picnic in the park, rather than see a movie or have lunch inside a restaurant. When it comes to dining, Knighton advises always requesting outside seating whenever possible, especially since you'll need to remove your masks to eat and drink.
"Studies done on COVID-19-related aerosols show that they linger in indoor air, not outside air," explains Knighton. "I would suggest for interactions within the first month of dating to be outside dates. Ventilation outside decreases the concentration of droplets potentially in the air should either person be positive for COVID."
Knighton tells Elite Daily that if you're planning on unmasking with your date, it's definitely best to stay outside — at least in the early stages of seeing someone new. She also recommends planning dates at locations and times when you know you won't encounter large crowds, in order to minimize risk for both of you.
Lastly, be sure to follow local and state guidance on mask-wearing, and consider the current statistics around the spread of the virus in your area before removing yours.
“In places where there is widespread transmission it is more likely that individuals will be infected than other areas and that should impact your behavior," says Dr. Adalja.
In a world where dating apps offer access to endless prospects, defining the relationship is complicated, and commitment is a spectrum with many shades of gray, it's well worth understanding where you stand with your date before removing your mask. As Knighton points out, it's easy to get swept away by the infatuation when you start seeing someone new, but don't let your love goggles cause you to overlook things that may compromise your safety. You both have a right to know whether or not you're seeing anyone else if you're going to take the risk of unmasking.
The bottom line? It's crucial to understand how you will fit into each other’s lives so you can accurately weigh the risk. Before taking off your mask, Knighton highly recommends interacting with your date for two to three weeks first to get a sense of their everyday lives and safety measures, and for them to see yours. Getting to know your date on a deeper level will help to shed light on their attitude toward COVID-19, so you can ultimately make an informed decision about removing your masks. Better yet, it'll also shed light on whether or not you're a good match. How's that for a win-win?
Shanina Knighton, clinical nurse scientist/infection preventionist
Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and infectious disease specialist