Editor's note: As we note below, medical experts agree that dating virtually from the comfort of your own home is the safest option right now.
Social interaction looks different during any pandemic and right now during the coronavirus pandemic. And it’s not just offices and schools that have been impacted: Finding love and its lesser variables while Covid-19 continues to ravage the world presents its own unique set of challenges — Amy Collier compares it to a Jane Austen novel, for example. For one, options for safe, in-person interactions are very limited. On Dec. 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to wear masks everywhere, including indoors as coronavirus cases continue to spike this winter. So where does that leave daters yearning for some in-person interaction?
“Try not to forget that dating can still be fun during a pandemic,” assured Maria Sullivan, vice president of Dating.com. And while it might be getting ever colder and wetter, it’s outdoor dining spaces across struggling restaurants that still present one of the most responsible dining out options. In turn, that’s where love might still find its real-world spark. If you’re hoping to meet someone out for a bite, there are some steps you should be taking to reduce the amount of risk you present them and that you expose yourself to.
Breaking bread, breaking the rules
Dating virtually from the comfort of your own home is the safest option, according medical experts we consulted. But if you’re going to plan a date night out of the house, you should, of course, try to do so as safely as possible. For one, noted infectious diseases physician Ellen Turner, MD, outdoor dining beats indoor dining.
“Dining both indoors and out can be associated with spread of Covid-19 because people sit close together and masks are removed — especially during eating and drinking,” said Turner, who also teaches at Drexel University’s College of Medicine as an adjunct professor. “However, outdoor dining — with at least six feet of space between tables and as much space between diners as possible — is better.”
As temperatures drop, some restaurants are setting up outdoor heaters to encourage patrons staying outside. “Close quarters inside areas like bars and restaurants with poor ventilation are associated with increased transmission risk,” Turner noted. “In turn, improved ventilation can decrease — but not eliminate — risk of spread.”
Best products to keep on hand before dating during the pandemic
In the past, your biggest question might have been whether you’re going to share the bill or the aforementioned first kiss. But now, it’s whether you’re going to swap a potentially deadly disease if you both aren’t careful and take precautions. So before heading to an outdoor dining date, we got some recommendations on what to keep close from the experts we consulted.
For anyone considering heading out on an outdoor date, Turner recommended making sure you have a thermometer for home use first, in case you're not feeling well ahead of time. This smart, no-touch model is Amazon’s No. 1 bestselling health care thermometer, one we’ve deemed one of the best digital thermometers.
When it’s cold out, it’s only natural to want to layer up and that’s exactly what neck gaiters and scarves are during the COVID-19 pandemic: an extra layer and not something to be worn instead of a face mask. This tactical neck warmer is fleece-lined to retain heat and can be worn over your ears, mouth and nose or pulled down to keep your neck warm while you’re eating.
So to help keep warm if you’re going to be spending an extended period of time outside and still protected, pop this winter face mask and neck gaiter combo over your disposable mask. “Please don't rely on typical cold-weather face coverings alone for preventing the spread of COVID-19,” said Turner. “Layering a fleece or winter mask over a cloth or paper, disposable face mask for warmth is okay, as long as you can breathe comfortably.”
3. Winter Hat
Anyone who has had to sit outside in the blustery cold without any type of hat is familiar with the unique misery that comes with freezing ears. Instead of focusing on how uncomfortably cold you are, rock a fleece-lined hat so you can concentrate on your date instead. This knitted wool hat for men and women comes in two patterns and a variety of color options. But it’s the artificial wool inner liner for optimal coziness that makes this machine-washable hat an outdoor date night win.
If you’re eating outside in the cold, the last thing you want to have to do is slip off your gloves and hold chilly utensils the entire meal — especially if you don’t know whose hands have been on them. That’s where these lightweight gloves come in. Thin enough that you can use cutlery without struggling with added bulk, these water-repellent gloves will keep your hands warm while you eat with a velvet inner layer.
Although these gloves were originally intended for activities like cycling or running, their anti-skid material along the inside of your hands means you don't have to worry about forks or knives slipping. And if something spills, these gloves are both water-resistant and machine washable.
One important way to be prepared for a date in this “new normal” is making sure you bring a few extra disposable face masks, explained Sullivan. “As we all continue to adjust to the lifestyle change, it’s a great idea to have some backup options,” said Sullivan, noting this will allow you to produce a fresh option if “they happened to forget or misplace theirs — it can happen by mistake and it’s best to come prepared.”
The brand claims these three-ply masks filter out roughly 98 percent of bacteria and 95 percent of particulate. Plus, they have a water-absorbing inner layer to help trap moisture that could lead to chapped lips and prevent a potentially embarrassing wet mark if your noise tends to run in the cold.
Like perfume or cologne, the hand sanitizer you pick can be an opportunity to incorporate a touch of your personality while combating COVID-19. In addition to not wanting to smell as sterile as a doctor’s office on a date, Turner noted you’re more likely to use a hand sanitizer more thoroughly if you find one with a scent you enjoy.
With 36 different spray and gel options ranging from beloved classics like Warm Vanilla Sugar and Cucumber Melon to seasonal scents including Sparkling Icicles and Twisted Peppermint, these travel-friendly sanitizers are made from 68-72 percent alcohol (meeting CDC guidelines regarding hand sanitizers).
Covid-19 aside, ‘tis the season of runny noses for those spending time out in the cold air. That’s what makes packs of tissues a date necessity for Turner. Having them handy and remembering to “always dispose of used tissues, wash hands or use sanitizer after blowing your nose or covering a cough or sneeze,” is a must for anyone venturing out this winter.
Whether you’re looking for slim packs that fit into purses, travel packs with a spark of personality or standard pocket packs of Kleenex, what matters most is that you have tissues handy in case you or your date needs them.
Turner recommended not only keeping travel sanitizing wipes with you but also making sure they’re alcohol-based for your disinfecting needs.
These multi-purpose wipes are 65 percent alcohol but also have a touch of aloe to help keep your hands from drying out. Whether you’re cleaning a restaurant's chair or sanitizing before and after a handshake, these fragrance-free wipes come in portable packs of 50 for on-the-go cleaning.
Essentials to keep in mind during outdoor dining
Once you set a date, there are a few “musts” to keep in mind, according to our experts.
Meet virtually first and set expectations
Make sure you are both on the same page and feel a connection before even taking the next steps to meet in person, as safely as possible. And although you might not typically be the type to “kiss and tell,” now might be the time to at least have a frank talk before that smooch over dessert.
“The question of whether or not to kiss and when is always a complicated one, but especially now during a pandemic. Obviously, it's impossible to kiss, wear a mask and socially distance at the same time, so that brings added risk,” Turner explained. “Choosing whether or not to kiss or be intimate now means weighing out risks and benefits, having an open discussion between partners and being as safe as possible with the choices you make.”
Use (the right) protection
Like experts advised us for our guide to buying face masks, choosing the right mask for you comes down to a few basics:
- It fits snugly against your face while still being able to breathe comfortably.
- It fits securely to your ears and molds to your nose
- It has multiple layers
If it's a reusable mask, make sure that it's machine-washable and made from tightly-bond fabric. Given the colder weather, definitely don’t rely on just a fleece face mask or neck gaiter to both protect you from Covid-19 and keep you warm. These fleece coverings, without a proper mask underneath, can actually increase the likelihood of transmission, according to MarkAlain Déry, DO, MPH, an epidemiologist and medical director for infectious diseases at Access Health Louisiana.
“The thought is that when the droplet particles went through the fleece material, it may have made those droplet particles even smaller, potentially even creating aerosolized particles,” he said.
And keep your mask on. “I recommend wearing that mask as much as possible, except when you absolutely have to remove it — like when you are eating and drinking,” said Turner. Likewise, don’t share utensils — ask to have food split by the kitchen. “Not sharing food and handling the same serving utensils minimizes risk of spreading any virus,” said Turner.
What to ask and do before an outdoor dining date?
Overall, Turner hopes daters ask a few key questions to ensure you are both on the same page about taking precautions before potentially exposing each other. “It’s not unlike some of the tough discussions you might have in the future about things like sexually transmitted infections,” she noted.
- Can each of you quarantine and socially distance for 10 to 14 days ahead of meeting?
- Is it possible for you to get tested a few days ahead of meeting (or less if rapid testing is available) for Covid-19 an option?
- Has your date had any concerning exposures, at work or at home, leading up to your meetup?
“Don’t be afraid to ask your date those harder-hitting pandemic-related questions,” added Sullivan. “Remind them how serious you are taking your own safety and establish an early foundation of mutual respect.” On that note, take your safety, and theirs, seriously: If you're not feeling well or have a fever, postpone your meetup.
Consider getting the flu shot first, too. Keep in mind that it may take up to two weeks for the flu shot to become effective. “This won't prevent transmission of Covid-19, but by decreasing rates of flu transmission — which we can do at this point — we free up resources needed for other illnesses like Covid-19 and help prevent spread of flu,” added Turner.