You can only make so many FaceTime calls and go on so many lousy Zoom dates before you start wondering when it will be safe to date again in person. When will you finally be able to meet up for drinks, instead of talking through a screen? Or sit across from someone in a coffee shop, instead of merely daydreaming about it? Desperate for answers, I asked the experts when Americans can stop practicing social distancing and start engaging in social mingling.
"[Right now], it is critical to listen to the true experts in this situation — the scientists — including the frontline epidemiologists and infectious disease doctors," Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, tells Bustle. Americans should continue to work from home, avoid nonessential travel, avoid eating at restaurants and bars, and limit gatherings to groups of less than 10, until the end of April. And that includes meeting up with someone for a first date.
According to Klapow, every interaction is a risk. "It varies by region of the country, the person’s exposure to the virus, underlying health conditions, etc.," he says. But the safest and most socially responsible thing to do is shelter in place, and continue avoiding in-person encounters.
Dating While Sheltering At Home
As of April 14, 95% of Americans are following stay-at-home orders, which encourage citizens to "shelter at home" to slow the spread of coronavirus. It can be a lonely time, especially if you're self-isolating. But that doesn't mean you can't find ways to be social and keep your dating life alive.
People are surprisingly receptive to receiving messages and making connections right now, Dr. Kim Chronister, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. In fact, social distancing has led to a surge in dating app usage, with folks chatting online and getting to know each other, without going on physical dates.
As Chronister says, "There is also the added benefit of time on your hands to craft meaningful messages, get on calls, get to know each other through video, and talk for hours on end."
Social distancing might even lead to deeper connections, Klapow says, than the kind you'd make on a traditional first date. If you're looking for something serious, ask each other personal questions, talk about the dates you'll go on once the pandemic is over, and see where the relationship leads. Or, simply send fun, flirty texts as a way of passing the time.
Until social distancing orders are lifted, stay inside and date online. And build anticipation through those FaceTime chats.
When Will Stay-At-Home Orders Be Lifted?
Much of the US will be practicing social distancing through April 30, and perhaps into the summer. It's difficult, however, to predict the exact date when things might change. "Stay-at-home orders should not lift anytime soon," Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a family physician, tells Bustle. "We are still in a phase of active spread of COVID-19 that we are trying to mitigate."
While other countries are beginning to ease their restrictions, the US is still in the middle of the fight. And that makes it difficult to compare the US to other countries' COVID-19 response.
"Other countries were even testing asymptomatic individuals, who can be spreaders of COVID-19," Bhuyan says. "Because we had very limited early testing in the US, we are already behind in tracking cases. That is why our current [...] stay-at-home orders are likely to continue."
How this plays out will be largely dependent on where you live, too. As Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, MD, FIDSA, FACP, FACEP, a board-certified infectious disease physician, tells Bustle, there are many considerations that go into lifting stay-at-home orders. "If case counts are manageable in hospital capacity can be preserved," he says, "some social distancing measures may be loosened."
To get an idea of what that might look like in the coming months, Adalja says we might see schools open before bars and restaurants, with mass gatherings still not permitted. The whole process, however, will speed up if we continue social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. "I do think, within, probably the next month or so, you will start to see some renovation of the world," he says.
What Will Dating Be Like After The Pandemic?
While you might be impatient, and understandably so, reopening social venues in stages will be a good thing. As Dr. Alexa Mieses, a practicing family physician and specialist in infectious diseases, tells Bustle, "If everyone went back to their pre-COVID routine immediately, COVID cases would increase again. Therefore, we will likely be practicing social distancing for months to come."
It's all about being as cautious as possible, so health experts can intervene if cases get out of control again, Mieses says. Once we are able to venture out, we'll likely continue to wash our hands frequently, she says, wear masks more regularly, and carry hand sanitizer. If anything, it'll make shaking hands on a first date a lot less germy.
While these stay-at-home orders may become less strict as the weeks and months go by, there is no clear answer as to when it will be safe to date again. "In order to manage our own expectations," Mieses says, "we should imagine remote, virtual [...] social activities for the next few months.
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 or NHS 111 in the UK for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.
Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist and associate professor of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
Dr. Kim Chronister, licensed clinical psychologist
Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, MD, practicing family physician
Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, MD, FIDSA, FACP, FACEP, board-certified infectious disease physician
Dr. Alexa Mieses, practicing family physician and specialist in infectious diseases