How to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a pandemic

Testing, masking, and social distancing are all love languages now.
Couple drinking milkshakes with COVID-19 face masks on.
Valentine's Day can still be sweet without spreading COVID-19. Pexels

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Romance is in the air, but unfortunately, so are COVID-19 and its worrisome variants. As Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches, you might be thinking about how the heck you’re going to celebrate one of the cuddliest holidays of the year while there’s still so much to worry about in terms of public health

“The advice doesn’t change because it’s Valentine’s Day,” says Meagan Fitzpatrick, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland who specializes in infectious disease modeling. “COVID doesn’t care if it’s February 13 or 14.”

Thankfully, there are quite a few date-night activities you can do with your partner with proper safety measures in place. Of course, those options vary based on who and where your valentine is. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to keep in mind while celebrating the hottest holiday of the year.

Cozying up with your live-in partner

If your romantic partner already lives with you, chances are you’re both breathing in the same air and have the most options out of anyone to enjoy Valentine’s Day. The first option, a classic dinner out, is a safe way to go about your festivities, as long as the restaurant has an outdoor dining option.

“I personally think, if you’re a couple and you live together, you should go out to eat,” says Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco specializing in HIV research. “With outdoor dining, there’s no evidence of it being unsafe.”

If your neighborhood is covered in two feet of snow and you’re willing to risk indoor dining, be sure to check the rate of infection in your community by going to your local health department’s website. If cases are low, choose a restaurant with solid mask guidelines and capacity rules that keep crowds to about a quarter of what they’d be pre-COVID, Gandhi says. Bonus points if you get tested a couple of days before just to make sure you’re keeping the waitstaff safe from potential infection.

And if the idea of going out to eat at all makes you nervous, there’s always the cozy option of takeout and snuggling on the couch. “I think that’s a really great idea, to still be at home but support those restaurants that need the income,” says Beth Thielen, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota and expert in pediatrics and infectious disease.

When it comes to being intimate with your in-home partner, there’s really no need to worry about COVID-19 spread. If you’re sleeping in a bed with them, sharing your home with them, and so on, you already have a decent risk of swapping the virus, or really any other infectious disease. So, if you’re both largely healthy, don’t feel like you have to hold off on cuddling or having sex.

Romances within your social bubble

The next best thing to having a live-in romance is to celebrate Valentine’s Day with someone already in your COVID-19 pod or bubble. These are your crew of folks that are exclusively hanging out with each other, so that you can still be social and have fun without worrying about catching or transmitting the virus. So, if your Valentine is someone you’ve been seeing safely and regularly during the pandemic, you can pretty much act as if they’re your live-in partner. Grab drinks outside, or even snag some tasty takeout for a romantic night in.

[Related: When it comes to COVID-19 risk, what counts as “outdoor” dining?]

For those of us who aren’t so lucky to have a partner in their bubble, there is the option for a limited in-person celebration. Gandhi says that when it comes to hosting a party indoors, make sure to keep the number of guests below 10 and follow the three rules of preventing spread: masking, distancing, and ventilating.

“They don’t all have to be perfect,” she says, but you need to make sure to stick to them somehow. Say, if you can’t have the windows fully open because the air is too chilly, spread your guests out more than you normally would.

Above all, it’s important to remain exclusive with your pod both before and after Valentine’s Day. If you end up spending time with someone else, be transparent about it. The knowledge can help with contact tracing, should that be necessary.

Mingling with someone new

Being single in the middle of a pandemic is undoubtedly a struggle. Meeting new people is hard enough in normal circumstances, and now add in the fact that dates need to take place over FaceTime or outside while masked up, it can certainly be hard to find that special someone.

Still, there are some ways to test and foster new love on Valentine’s Day. An outdoor meal at a restaurant or a picnic in the park, if the weather permits, are good first date options. But you should follow CDC guidelines when it comes to masks and distancing as if they’re someone you’ve just met for the first time.

“If this is the first time you are seeing each other and want to do it on Valentine’s Day, then pull up your mask between eating and ordering.” Gandhi says. “You can take it down when you’re drinking and eating.”

When it comes to having sex, or getting intimate in any other way, proceed with caution. Just like you’d get tested for STDs before and after getting to know someone new, go ahead and get tested for COVID-19 before and after the date, Gandhi says. Nowadays, we have several options for testing—including rapid at-home kits. While the technology is far from perfect, you need to take this step before getting up close and personal with someone new.

[Related: Host a virtual party that’s lit]

“If it’s negative, it’s not 100 percent guaranteed you don’t have COVID, but it really reduces the chance,” Thielen says. If it’s positive, or you have doubts or symptoms in the days before the date, cancel. Your safety and public health are more important than keeping a commitment at this point.

Long-distance love

If the person you love is a long drive or even flight away from you right now, don’t stress. Gandhi thinks that traveling to see one another isn’t completely out of the question. Mask up, keep your distance, and remain in ventilated spaces, like with an indoor party. Take extra precautions if any of those three measures fail. For example, double up on masks if you have to share a plane, train, or bus with someone. And wash your hands thoroughly every time you reach a new transit hub.

Remember that international travelers have to now get tested and quarantine after they land in the US. Even if you’re traveling domestic, schedule a test before and after your arrival. That might mean staying in your partner’s house for a few extra days to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 before you’re cleared. And be sure to take those same precautions on your way back home.

For some long-distance couples, however, travel is out of the question. Maybe one of you is at a higher risk for COVID-19 or has international travel restrictions to contend with. Either way, Valentine’s Day is probably going to be quite different from past years. Just remember, we’re at the tail end of this pandemic, Fitzpatrick says; within a few months, we can hopefully return to a world where it’s possible to go on real dates again. So, for now, set your sights on a special occasion and plan it out together with your partner.

“Postponing this particular celebration for a safer world,” Fitzpatrick says, “is a romantic gesture in and of itself.”