Social distancing on a personal level

Dos and don’ts for dinner parties, haircuts, dates

NOW THAT JUST about everything is shutting down, it’s time to start thinking about social distancing at a personal level.

The goal of social distancing is to reduce interactions between people to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. The first step is eliminating large gatherings of people to reduce the potential for widespread contamination. Most employers are also sending employees home, telling them to work from there.

But now that you’re hunkered down at home, what’s the best way to protect yourself from infection as you go about daily life? Gov. Charlie Baker hasn’t urged people to stop going out to restaurants. There’s no ban yet on dinner parties, weddings, or baby showers. No prohibition on going on dates, working out at the gym, riding the subway, or getting your hair cut.

What makes sense and what doesn’t?

It depends on who you ask. One option is doing everything remotely. We can exercise with YouTube videos and take our classes online. We have books (or Kindles) and TVs with all kinds of programming plus grocery delivery and restaurant apps, some of which have even started offering “non-contact” food delivery.

Others suggest you don’t have to shut yourself off from the outside world completely. “There are still many ways you can practice responsible social distancing even when you have to be out and about in the world,” said the MIT Technology Review, which provides a good checklist.

On riding the subway, visiting the grocery store, working out at the gym, or any of the other aspects of daily life that we tend to take for granted, the advice is typically cautious: Avoid these settings if you can, but if you must go do so at off-peak times and keep your distance (6 to 10 feet) from other riders/patrons.

The Atlantic asked a series of experts their opinions and got a wide variety of answers. Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said she thinks dating is okay if you are reasonably confident that you’re both well. “I think we’re humans and we need human interaction,” she said.

But Carolyn Cannuscio, the director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, would be very cautious about meeting up with people you don’t know well. “This seems like a great time to get creative with your text messages,” she said.

Watson said small dinner parties are fine as long as nobody has symptoms, but Cannuscio is more cautious. “I would recommend that people minimize social contact, and that means limiting all social engagements,” she said.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Regarding haircuts, Watson sees less chance of exposure with these one-on-one interactions but Cannuscio advises against them.

Similarly, Watson is cautious but open to attending weddings and birthday parties. “I don’t want to tell somebody to cancel their wedding. That would be terrible. But I think you have to look at the situation, maybe ask guests who are feeling ill not to come.” Cannuscio is more hardline.  “One of the best ways we can show love to the people we care about is to step back and to stay away,” she said.