By Sara Gaynes Levy
Editor’s note: this post was published on April 16, 2021. We urge readers to abide by guidelines issued in their local areas since then.
After a year of quarantines, lockdown, and socially-distanced everything, the U.S. has hit its stride with a vaccine rollout that’s projected to result in herd immunity by mid-summer. With the vaccine comes some important questions about when we can resume certain activities “normally.” If you’re on Bumble, you’re probably wondering about one big one in particular: When can we safely date in person again?
The answer: soon! “It’s a very exciting time,” says Colleen Kelley, MD, associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. Step one in our return to dating is being fully vaccinated, which the CDC defines as being more than two weeks out from the final dose of the vaccine you received. Once you’re firmly into fully vaxxed territory, experts agree you can finally open up your bubble and begin dating. Read on for their advice on how to do so safely.
Aim for harm reduction
Post-vaccination, the name of the game is harm reduction. This term means that some amount of an activity is going to happen, and the goal, according to the National Institutes of Health, is to “reduce adverse consequences.” So while the vaccine works amazingly well, it’s not 100% effective. After you’ve received it, you’ll want to think about how you can engage in behaviors you probably haven’t for some time, like dating or having sex with new people, as safely as possible.
Evaluate your risk level
Before going on a date with a new person, consider who else is in your bubble. “If you have regular, close, unmasked contact with someone who is high risk, it is better to stay on the safe side,” says Emily Landon, MD, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. So you can meet with someone, but choose an activity where you’re masked, outdoors, and as distanced as possible, especially if the high-risk individual in your life is not yet vaccinated.
The second thing to consider is whether you live in an area where one of the variants is surging. While early data is promising, we still don’t know if the vaccines are as effective at protection against variants, so if the case load is high in your area, consider holding off on dating in person until the numbers drop a bit, says Dr. Kelley. And if you decide to meet up anyway, evaluate your bubble, your risk, your date’s risk, and your comfort level with those risks—and then decide if you need to wear masks, physically distance, or get tested beforehand.
Lastly, if you’re vaccinated but your date is not, make note of who else you have regular contact with. CDC guidelines allow vaccinated people to have regular, unmasked interactions with one household of unvaccinated folks, provided they’re low-risk. So if your date is the only unvaccinated person you’ll be seeing, go for it! If your date is high-risk or you see other unvaccinated people without masks, stay the course with masks, distancing, outdoor activities, and regular testing if you’ll be pursuing intimacy.
What to know before your first date
First, if one or both of you is between shots one and two, or is less than two weeks out from shot two, you’ll still have some protection, says Dr. Landon, but it’s hard to know exactly how much. “If you’re doing anything in that waiting period, it’s better to act as though you haven’t been vaccinated yet,” says Dr. Kelley. This is because the vaccine builds your immunity over time, so the likelihood that you’d contract COVID if exposed to it between shots is higher than it is after you’re out of the two-week waiting period. And since you have partial immunity, it may increase the likelihood that if you did get COVID, you’d be asymptomatic, meaning you wouldn’t know if you were spreading it to others (and vice versa if it’s your date that’s not yet out of the window). In that in-between zone, stick to safer dates that are outdoors, distanced, and masked.
If you and your date are in the post-vaxx safe zone, you have the green light to meet—and unlike pre-vaccine, from a public health standpoint you can skip the litany of bubble- and risk-related questions, says Dr. Landon. “If you’re vaccinated, your risk of getting COVID from someone else who is vaccinated is almost infinitesimally small,” says Dr. Landon. This is because even if a vaccinated person comes into contact with the virus, their immune system will be so effective at fighting the virus off that it’s difficult for it to reproduce enough to spread to others. That said, if you still want to have the COVID conversation about how a date has been handling the pandemic, it won’t hurt. “If you’re going to have a successful relationship, you’re going to have to agree on those types of things,” says Dr. Landon.
Date venues still matter
When choosing where to go on a first date, you may still want to choose a place where mask-wearing is required, though not necessarily to protect yourself from COVID: it’s just that public spaces are the best environment for meeting someone new, and they happen to require masks. The increased safety is a bonus. “Meeting up in a masked environment, the likelihood you will get a serious or deadly case of COVID is almost zero,” says Dr. Landon. (Both doctors gave the example of a museum as a great date spot: they’re large with good airflow, public, and usually require masks.)
That said, meeting up for an outdoor dinner at a restaurant and taking your mask off to eat is just as safe—if not safer—if you’re both fully vaccinated. “Take advantage of outdoor dining in nice weather with your vaccinated date,” says Dr. Kelley. “Outdoors is infinitely safer than indoors,” says Dr. Landon.
Both experts caution against taking your date to a bar, even if you’re fully vaccinated—the combination of even a medium-sized crowd and an indoor space is still risky. “Indoor restaurants are slightly better because the patrons are stationary,” says Dr. Landon. “But at a bar, where people are moving around, if someone has COVID it tends to be equally distributed around the whole space.” While the vaccines work extremely well, again, they aren’t 100% effective, and you have no way of knowing whether someone in a bar or indoor restaurant—an environment where masks, by necessity, come off—has the coronavirus. “We still need to be avoiding crowded indoor spaces,” says Dr. Kelley.
And if you’re looking for an intimate, indoors setting for your date, your home is a great option. The CDC has given the okay for small groups of fully vaccinated people to gather in private residences, so if you’re comfortable being alone in a private space with your date, go for it! (And check out what the experts have to say about safely hooking up post-vaccination here.)
The bottom line: if you’re vaccinated, and your match is vaccinated, you really can start getting back to (almost) normal. So grab your mask, make a reservation at an outdoor restaurant, and meet your match.