When the COVID-19 pandemic instigated lockdowns and strict stay-at-home directives to citizens, among the things people missed most were the opportunities for social interactions. But now that vaccination programs have begun in earnest and businesses are slowly opening up again, Americans may be wondering how to acclimatize. You may be asking yourself too: is it safe to start socializing again if you and the people in your immediate circles have been vaccinated? Should you still be taking precautions for every social gathering or meetup you attend? And if you should, what are these precautions?
It’s probably still best to err on the safer side even if you and your loved ones have gotten inoculated. Vaccines are a boon in the global battle against COVID-19, but we are not entirely out of the woods yet. The best ways to align your re-emerging social life with the current state of affairs are to exercise caution, find safe means of interaction, and slowly ease back into your old habits.
In that vein, here are five strategies for managing your social interactions at this stage in the pandemic. These will ensure that you and your loved ones can socialize and draw comfort from each other while still staying healthy and safe.
Stay True to the Three Principles of Mask-Wearing, Hand-Washing, and Safe Social Distancing
COVID-19 vaccines are now part of the picture, but that doesn’t mean that you should completely stop wearing a mask, washing your hands constantly, and observing proper social distancing. While the nation still hasn’t reached full herd immunity or a 100% vaccination rate, observing health measures like buying a washable antimicrobial face mask, keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer with you, and avoiding crowded and tight spaces is still the way to go.
If you need to, you should explain why you’re continuing to observe these three rules for curbing the spread of the disease to anyone you’ll be socializing with. Let them know that it’s also your way of watching out for them while the threat of COVID-19 hasn’t completely disappeared yet.
Be Firm About Social Boundaries
This is also a good time for you to re-examine your boundaries, especially when it comes to social activities. Remember, even if things seem to be easing up, no one should force you to do any socializing that you aren’t comfortable with yet. For example, if you’re still wary about traveling several cities away or going to an indoor restaurant just to meet up with someone, don’t hesitate to express that. It also goes without saying that if you want people to respect your boundaries for socializing, you should also respect theirs.
Choose the Lowest-Risk Options for Social Gatherings
One thing that all citizens should pay attention to is that there’s a spectrum of risk of getting the SARS-CoV-2 virus with different social activities. Some social activities and settings prove very risky when it comes to potentially exposing others, like gathering in a huge crowd in a poorly ventilated indoor venue. Other social activities, however, are less so.
At this stage in the pandemic, if you’re making plans to socialize, you should still opt for social distancing activities that involve smaller groups and outdoor, open-air settings. Save clubbing and crowded house parties for when the pandemic lifts, and stick to outdoor picnics or garden gatherings instead.
Agree to Smaller and Shorter Social Interactions First
Socializing now will probably seem very different from how it was before the pandemic. If you rush to do all the same activities and meet up with big groups of people like you did before, the paranoia and unease may get to your mental health. Ultimately, this may also prevent you from enjoying your time with your friends or family. It’s perfectly reasonable to ease yourself into social interaction so that neither you nor your loved ones get overwhelmed. You can start small, like with short one-on-one meetups. For example, you can catch up with a friend for an hour or so while you’re walking your dogs in the neighborhood or while you’re having a coffee break together in the park.
Supplement Short and Socially Distanced Gatherings with Fully Distanced, Fully Engaged Events
Admittedly, the quality of your social interactions outside your home may still seem very short and limited. Since you and your loved ones outside of your immediate household are still taking precautions, you may not feel as free or as relaxed with your time. But there’s no harm in you suggesting a follow-up that’s more socially distanced, but also more conducive to bonding. After the initial meetup for a short walk or cup of coffee, you can tell your friend or family member that you’d love to continue the conversation with them over Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet. That way, your social interaction won’t seem truncated, and you can continue deepening your relationships through a safe mix of face-to-face and online socializing.
At this point in the pandemic, we are slowly getting closer to the possibility of connecting with one another without putting our health and safety at risk. But until the virus is gone for good, being careful about our social interactions is key. This is the only way that we can stay true to our wishes and those of our loved ones: that we make the best of what we have and that we continue to look after each other’s wellbeing, whether we are close together or far apart.