Your child in college wants to visit home for a weekend. Should parents say yes? These are the etiquette issues of our time. The “Social Graces” column is focusing on COVID-19 issues for the near future, and we’ll group them in an ongoing list; the most recent Q&A will always be on top.
Q: Should parents let their children who are away at college come home for a visit during the pandemic?
A: For all students returning from school, we suggest they quarantine for 14 days when they arrive home.
And if there are any symptoms, like a fever or a cough, seek medical management, or call your family practice doctor to get a test for COVID-19. We even recommend that those individuals who test negative at college still quarantine when they return home because there is going to be some time lapse following the test results.
We’ve had parents call and say: My child had a negative COVID test this morning; are they free to come home and then drive to someone’s home for a wedding or a gathering? And the answer is no, because it’s just a matter of being cautious because of the simple fact that young adults are more likely to visit family members who have preexisting medical conditions.
When you’re in college, the incidence of other classmates having underlying conditions is lower. However, when you come home from college and you’re visiting relatives, that’s where the transmission of the virus can have a greater impact on that population of individuals than 19- or 20-year-old college students.
And if they come home, they need to stay at home. Not come home and go to bars downtown with friends from other colleges who are now home.
We want to err on the side of caution and be an advocate for health, and ensure that other individuals in your family do not succumb because of exposure from an asymptomatic 19-year-old.
A: I think the most important part is to have really clear communication between the parent and the child in that situation. It’s vital to be able to know your own personal boundaries, and oftentimes within families, those things can get messy and complicated. But I think it’s important.
Before entering into that conversation, know what you’re comfortable with, and use “I” statements because it’s a really easy way to be clear about your expectations.
If parents do not want the child to come back because they want to be really cautious, they can have the conversation with the child saying: I love you. I wish I could see you. And because you’re able to have this experience at college, and you’re out and having more exposure than we’re used to, I want to be really clear about my expectations for when you do come back for a longer visit. Let’s have these precautions set in place, so that I would be able to actually enjoy and focus on our time together rather than be worried.
If the child wants to come home, but the parent doesn’t feel comfortable with that, that’s not necessarily a statement about their relationship or whether or not the child feels loved. It’s more about respecting boundaries and respecting what people need to feel safe.
Be proactive with these conversations, and have a plan in place. This will reduce anxiety because everyone will be on the same page and expectations are made clear without the added level of stress. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s be to resilient.
Q: Your wedding is approaching, and you need to limit the number of guests in attendance to follow social distancing guidelines. How should you uninvite people?
A: Uninviting guests is much easier than it normally would be because no one is going to be surprised that a global pandemic has forced you to modify your wedding plans. You may even find that many guests will be relieved to be uninvited so that they don’t have to send regrets, as many may be worried that your event could put their health at risk.
The key is to let your guests know as soon as possible and ideally offer them an alternative to an in-person celebration. You might write a note like this:
“Dear (guest’s name — this should be personalized)
In light of the current global health crisis, we are modifying our wedding to make it as safe as possible and to follow social distancing guidelines. Because of this, we hope you will accept our apology as we will not be able to include you in our special day, in-person.
We will be having a virtual celebration for our original guest list after our very small in-person wedding, and we hope that you can attend that event. You are so important to us, and we would love to have the opportunity to celebrate this moment in our lives with you however we can.”
Other important elements are to follow up any gifts with thank you notes immediately as you usually would and if you’ve already secured wedding favors you can even send them to guests who can’t attend in person, so that they feel like they’re a part of your day.
The purpose of a wedding is to bear witness and celebrate the union of two people, and even during this challenging time, with small weddings and virtual celebrations, you can still create that connection.
— Lisa Orr, etiquette and protocol consultant
A: With today’s tech, no one has to be officially disinvited. Everyone can be included even if it’s limited to the virtual world. To protect guests from feeling downgraded to the virtual nose-bleed seats, set aside time after the ceremony for a private e-toast. (Maybe send a Champagne care package beforehand.) Acknowledge their supportive participation and say that, under better circumstances, you wish you could clink glasses in person but look forward to doing so when you can. This is the modern equivalent of inviting a guest to the ceremony but not the reception.
However, how do you decide who makes the in-person cut? Before you rank your relationships, first ask for opt-out volunteers. There’s social pressure to attend a wedding, which might force high-risk or risk-adverse guests to reluctantly forgo their COVID-19 concerns. Giving them an opportunity to opt out might be a welcome relief.
If your local government or venue has strict COVID-19 guidelines, like mandatory masks or travel restrictions, explain these constraints to your guests.
Another option includes limiting plus-ones. Or reduce the headcount by replacing wedding staff and asking essential guests to act as the officiant, musician, hairdresser, makeup artist, photographer, etc. This makes a wedding an intimate community event.
Whatever actions you take, do it as a couple. Marriage’s purpose is to lend support in good times and bad; consider this good team practice for the future. And when breaking the bad news to anyone, do it with care. Draft a polite, apologetic response, and customize it to each relationship. Don’t text, email or send the news secondhand. Make an audio or video call to each person. Or deliver the bad news in person (6 feet apart, masked), offer consolation air hugs, and give them their own hand sanitizer wedding favor.
Q: Your partner or roommate won’t leave you alone when you’re trying to work from home. How can you nicely say to leave you alone?
A: Living and working from home over the last few months has been trial and error. This is a really good time to have a discussion or family meeting with your household about establishing boundaries now that we’re going to be at home more.
Announce the family meeting verbally to your household, and make it official over text or email, with a time and date that works for everyone.
It’s best to have an agenda of things you would like to discuss and give your spouse or roommates permission to air their annoyances as well. This meeting isn’t about what your spouse or roommates are doing wrong, but rather how you all can be more productive and respect your relationships.
During your meeting, discuss one another’s work hours, schedules and breaks. Maybe you are the one who had to work on the couch, and now you’d like to work at the kitchen table, or vice versa. You may also want to discuss what you and your spouse or roommates will not talk about during the workday. For instance, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you won’t discuss chores around the house or the kids (unless it’s an emergency) because it pulls you and everyone in the house out of work mode into house mode.
Make sure to also address your need for alone time after your workday. This might be a visual code: for instance, you’re wearing headphones or have a whiteboard on the door that says not to disturb you.
Once you’ve had this meeting and established a work-from-home policy, find a communal time to regroup and check in with one another.
We often take our loved ones for granted. At work, we’re more prompt to recognize good work. So while at home, compliment and recognize when someone in your household does something that makes you feel good. Take the time to have gratitude.
A: It’s important to be empathetic when talking to your partner or roommates for a couple of reasons: One is that the more you understand what they are trying to get out of the interactions (Relief from boredom? Comfort from anxiety or loneliness? A more level playing field with housework or child care?), then the more you can help resolve the underlying issue, so that you don’t keep having this problem.
Another reason is that they are far less likely to go on the defensive and escalate things into a conflict if they feel that you are being kind and understanding about what they’re going through. Sometimes, it’s a deeper problem — one partner feels bothered but doesn’t realize that the other partner’s “intrusions” are actually very realistic and understandable attempts to share the load more equitably of kids who are climbing up the walls.
Sometimes, it’s a personality difference that has been magnified by our strange, lockdown lives — extroverts may feel miserable at home without their work lunches and chitchat. So, don’t be afraid to have a larger conversation about the potential roots of the problem if it’s a pattern that keeps cropping up.
With roommates, of course‚ you have more leeway and don’t necessarily have to prioritize their needs — but empathy still helps. Either way, you will get the best results if you offer a specific, concrete solution, such as “It’s really stressful for me to break from my work in the early afternoon, but can we catch up at 4:30 when things wind down?” This offers a path forward rather than just saying what not to do.
Finally, protect the boundaries you set, whether with headphones, a physical barrier or a visual symbol of when you are in work mode.
Q: Someone you know isn’t following the 14-day, out-of-state-travel quarantine rule. How should you handle the situation?
A: While we’ve been advised, in most parts of the country, to wear masks, avoid crowds and wash hands, quarantine rules vary from state to state. The pandemic hit us from every conceivable angle, but resisting a quarantine won’t change that fact. It will, however, require trust, flexibility and patience.
If someone you know doesn’t comply with quarantine conditions, try couching a response this way: “This is reckless behavior because it’s a serious public safety issue” or “I take the right of freedom very seriously, but this is a potentially deadly disease.” Ask, “Would you want to be responsible for knowing you’re infected and then spreading it to someone else?”
There may not be legal consequences, but if people knowingly leave isolation when they’ve tested positive, then it becomes a moral issue. If you’re ordered to quarantine, it’s because you’ve been exposed and must isolate until you are no longer contagious or until you test negative. We all have the right to choose to wear a mask or not to wear one, but we don’t have a right to expose or infect others.
We cannot always count on other people to do what they’re supposed to; we can only count on our own behavior. Don’t spread germs; spread common sense.
A: We have this rule, but there is not any strong enforcement behind it. It puts us in this interesting situation with mask laws and quarantine laws if we’re not enforcing them directly. I think the answer to this lies in a concept called social proof.
Social proof is the idea that we look to other people to get a sense of what is normative behavior. So if a quarantine or mask law can get more people to abide by a 14-day quarantine or wear their masks, then other people will look around at that and see all of their neighbors are wearing masks or quarantining after traveling.
The best way to influence other people to abide by these things is to do them yourself and be public about how you do them. With masks, it’s easy: Go outside of your house and wear a mask. But with quarantine, that’s harder because either you are not going anywhere, so you don’t have to quarantine for 14 days, or you are quarantining and people can’t see that.
I think that is where social media could have a positive influence because you could post that you went somewhere and this is how you handled your quarantine when you came back. Or you chose not to go somewhere because of quarantine. That is kind of an odd thing to post: We don’t usually post about an absence of a behavior; we typically post about a behavior.
Getting into an argument with people by telling them they made a bad decision isn’t going to help. But showing more obviously what you are doing can help.
Q: You heard that someone had COVID-19, but now you’ve been invited to that person’s backyard to socialize. What do you ask the host to make sure it’s safe?
A: The pandemic has changed the ways we socialize. Gone are the days where we just pop in for a quick visit with someone — even close friends. Many of us have businesses or work that depend on us remaining healthy, not only for our own sake, but also for our staff and family members.
Therefore, if I was invited to a backyard event and I heard that the host had recovered from COVID-19, I would ask, “Thank you for the invitation to your party. I heard that you recovered from COVID-19. Is that correct?”
If the host confirms they’ve recovered from the virus, then you can ask the following questions: Have you been tested to confirm you are now virus-free? Will guests be asked to wear face masks? How many people will be attending? Can your backyard accommodate safe social distancing while seated? Are you requesting each person bring their own drinks and or food? If no, how will you ensure safe food sharing?
To ask relevant questions is a sign of the times, no matter how close you are with the host. If someone has invited you to their backyard for socializing, they need to be prepared to make everyone feel safe and comfortable, and be open to answering personal safety questions. If they aren’t, then you need to decide how comfortable you are with taking some risk. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether to accept the invitation or not.
A: I’d first understand that we are the only ones who can safeguard ourselves as best we know how. We can’t expect the host to have the same desires, regulations and guidelines that we do.
We’ve all had enough time to learn that not everyone feels the same about masks and social distancing over the past five months. This is why it’s completely acceptable to check with the host beforehand to learn what the plan is, to put ourselves at ease and make us feel safe.
Before you reach out, think through the steps you will need to take to ensure that you are comfortable with the situation; that could include confirming the host has tested negative for COVID-19 since they were diagnosed and asking about food plans or any other safety measures that would make you feel at ease.
Once you reflect on your concerns, approach the host in gratitude — it was kind that they invited you to join in on the fun. Let them know you are looking forward to being with everyone, and you wanted to check in to see what you can bring to help out. You can also ask about their plan for keeping everyone safe — especially in light of “so and so” having had COVID-19.
Communicate respectfully and gauge your responses according to their responses. Address your concerns if needed.
Once you have all of the information needed from the host, you should be able to determine whether or not you feel safe. You might have also been able to help the host guarantee that all of the guests will feel safe together by talking through your concerns.
Go have fun. Enjoy the backyard festivities as you implement whatever measures make you feel as safe as possible. Or stay home if your requirements aren’t met, and join them next time.
Q: From the start, you and your partner or roommate have been on the same page with a COVID-19 safety routine. Now they want to relax the rules, but you don’t. What should you say?
A: The best thing you can do is actually have a conversation together. This includes making eye contact, putting the phones away, and sitting face-to-face —intentionally taking time to discuss the matter. Agree to try to understand one another’s perspective. Each person will need to know how much they are willing to compromise and what consequences they feel they need to carry out in order to feel respected in the relationship. For example, if one partner feels unsafe, and the other partner doesn’t want to increase their safety routine, the partner that feels unsafe may need to set some boundaries. This might include keeping some extra physical distance or sanitizing more frequently.
Additionally, because the situation is changing so rapidly, it would be helpful for each partner to agree to revisit the conversation in a week and see if they’re able to get on the same page. It’s also helpful to let the science do the talking, so see if each partner can each commit to taking an hour to research appropriate precautions. See if you can get in alignment about a safety routine together.
A: Fear, uncertainty and confusion are experiences commonly had if you are living in 2020. At a time when the world is trying to open up and normalize, these issues can creep into our own homes. Expectations for connecting with others are shifting and social norms are being adjusted. Living space is sacred, so it is important to consider and establish a sense of safety amid this changing environment. Given that every individual will have different conceptualizations of what activities they view as safe or risky, your partner or roommate will likely have different views as time goes on.
It is best to find a time to sit with these individuals to define the boundaries of the shared space and how to interact with them at this current moment. Given that any change in context requires a change in expectations, it is crucial to revisit this as our world adjusts. It is necessary that you advocate for boundaries that allow you to respect others and yourself simultaneously. It is important to be clear and open about the expectations you are communicating. Avoid a debate about sources of authority and what we believe to be true, or convincing others that the way they are interacting in the current state is either irresponsible or unnecessarily cautious. These approaches will only magnify the differences and cause you to focus more on uncertainty. The goal of the conversation should be to maximize both safety and respect for one another.
Q: You’ve been invited to a party. You aren’t sure about the number of attendees, if the event will be outdoors, whether social distancing will be in place or if masks are required. How should you ask the host?
A: Upon receipt of an invitation, it is customary to reply immediately, so as not to forget and to allow the host to have accurate planning numbers. Any questions you may have should be discussed at that time. Prefacing this sensitive subject with a nicety is most polite. This discussion will offer an opportunity for clarity and self-assurances.
A brief explanation asking specifics regarding social distancing, masks, etc. and ending the conversation with your decision of attendance or not is a well-respected way to handle this situation. If you disagree with the details offered, refrain from expressing your dismay, and end the discussion with well wishes.
A: Remember when the biggest worry we had about going to a party was what to wear and should I eat before I go in case the party is stingy on the appetizers? Well, thanks to COVID-19, we all have so many more concerns. Great hosts will anticipate that their guests will have different risk thresholds when it comes to protecting themselves and will lay out thoughtful information that will help guests plan accordingly (or send their regrets). If there isn’t any information on the party invite, you may consider making a call to the venue to ask about their service protocols and requirements as a starting point to gauge your comfort. If the party is at a private residence, you may have no choice but to address your questions directly to the host.
As a wedding and event planner, we are suggesting the following ideas to our clients as they plan their parties in the era of COVID-19:
Instead of making your party “cocktail attire” or “black tie invited,” dub it “pandemic black tie,” or make a note that “masks will be offered at the door to all attendees,” which implies that guests will be expected to wear masks.
In a separate card or footnote, show your love and appreciation for your guests’ health and safety by listing protocols that will be in place. Whether it’s seating guests in smaller groups, extra cleaning measures or hand sanitizer stations, it might not be the sexiest information, but it will show your guests you care.
Get ahead of fielding a million calls, texts and emails with these questions by acknowledging in the invitation that some people may just not be comfortable in a crowd right now, and that’s OK too. Good hosts will never make a guest feel bad about not attending their soiree. Offer a virtual way to attend the celebration for high-risk guests to toast from afar!
Q: How should you tell people they are wearing their mask incorrectly?
A: If you encounter someone wearing a mask incorrectly, be gracious and give the person the benefit of the doubt. Avoid putting anyone on the defense by offering unsolicited advice. Instead take a helpful approach. Smile with your eyes, and say something as simple as, “Excuse me, I noticed your mask was slipping a bit around the ears. Thought you might want to know, so it doesn’t fall to the floor.”
While sharing this information, gesture with your own mask the correct way to cover both the nose and mouth. If this exchange is done with a kind and upbeat tone, you will come across as friendly and concerned, rather than fearful and threatening.
After four months of dealing with COVID-19, the last thing anyone needs is more friction. Take a breath, be tolerant and kind with every interaction, and you might even receive a sincere thank-you in return.
A: I think that navigating this moment of transition will involve a new understanding of the importance of boundaries with your friends and loved ones. It’s going to be hard to tell people how to wear their masks, but you may have to. I would encourage you to practice. Stand in front of a mirror and practice saying, “Hey, friend, can you please pull your mask up over your nose?” Practice saying, “I love you, but I can’t spend time with you unless you wear your mask over your nose and mouth.” Practice saying, “Give me 6 feet please.”
And give yourself the mental practice of walking away if you have to. Imagine yourself in a situation where a friend won’t wear a mask properly and imagine yourself saying, “I’ve got to go,” and then leaving. Give yourself some training on setting those boundaries.
But importantly, remember how strange a time this is. Allow for that strangeness to exist. Exercise patience with folks you see not wearing a mask or not wearing one properly. We’re on a learning curve. Some folks are being thoughtless and selfish, absolutely. But some are struggling to learn and overcome traumas that may be associated with objects being close to their faces and/or throats; to understand that wearing a mask isn’t just about their comfort or their safety, but about everyone else’s.
Lead with compassion always, but set your boundaries firmly.
— Emma Couling, freelance writer, moderator and host of “Stay Mad Chicago”
Q: What should you say to friends and family members who think the pandemic is over?
A: The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. It’s still here, it never went away, and it’s not going anywhere until there is a vaccine available.
This virus is very infectious. It’s more infectious than influenza, so we really need to be more vigilant. States reopening may give some a false sense of security because, again, the pandemic is not over.
If friends or family members call COVID-19 a hoax on Facebook, don’t engage online, because social media is not a realistic place to have a conversation. Engaging with loved ones who don’t believe in the dangers of the pandemic is not worth your mental engagement. It’s so frustrating to see the lack of compassion from some people who refuse to see past themselves.
If you are going to go out and engage in social activities, take the proper precautions and wear a mask, especially as cases rise in the U.S. If you want to support local restaurants and bars, try ordering takeout, dining outside or making a conscious effort to only go to places that are maintaining social distancing protocols and require masks.
— Emma Kate Loveday, postdoctoral researcher and virologist
A: This pandemic is so large and terrifying that many would prefer to pretend it’s not happening.
That’s a coping mechanism.
It may seem unhealthy, but avoidance is the only way some people know how to make it through these historic events.
The best way to communicate to people living with this denial is to only speak in facts and to avoid personal stories or feelings.
“I think you should wear a mask” is a statement that invites conversation, but “Several countries have cut their number of infections over 50% by simply having citizens wear masks; it’s proven to reduce the spread of infection” tells other people they’ll have to do research to keep up with this conversation.
If strict facts don’t work, it’s time to take a good look at the relationship. Language like “I wish you would be careful” could work, but “If you keep being unsafe during this pandemic, I can’t be close to you until it’s over” sets a standard. If the person didn’t know before how serious this pandemic was, then hearing someone close to them draw a line says it’s time to start listening.
Yes, restaurants are reopening, but some have already closed again after staff members have become infected with the coronavirus. For every inch forward, it can feel like we jump 6 feet back.
We have to help each other. So, keep talking. Keep telling the truth. Keep showing facts, and don’t back down. If they care about you, they will listen and, hopefully, change, because what you’re asking them to do is incredibly low-effort.
Your safety matters, and it’s time for us all to get better at verbalizing that our health is worthy of discussion.
— Ike Holter, Chicago playwright and screenwriter
Q: With stay-at-home orders lifting in some areas, how can you have safe sex with someone outside of your home during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: If you are thinking of having sex with someone you know or someone you have been in a relationship with, and you trust that this person has practiced social distancing and hand-washing, then great, go for it.
If it’s someone you don’t know, such as someone you’ve met on a dating app, I don’t think so. The days of the one-night stand are over because of the coronavirus. I think now is the time to get to really know someone before you go home together. Again, this is a huge leap of trust you are making with someone you barely know.
Any healthy relationship needs safety, trust and emotional intimacy before physical intimacy. Emotional intimacy is talking and sharing, which you can still practice virtually or from a distance. Try talking on the phone, having a Zoom call or sitting outside together at least 6 feet a part.
During this time, you really need to know whom you are sleeping with. It’s not just a certain age demographic getting COVID-19; it affects everyone. You aren’t just putting yourself at risk for a sexually transmitted illness, but also for a deadly virus. You can’t tell by looking at people if they have coronavirus. They might not show symptoms but could still be a carrier.
Despite how much fun sex is, before there is a vaccine, it’s not worth your life.
A: This time offers an invitation for people to think deeper about why they are having sex, what they are getting from it, and whether that benefit is worth the risk. In fact, there is always a risk when we have sex, especially when we do so casually and with multiple partners, so now is a good time to bring more thoughtfulness and intention to your sexual decisions.
For instance, let’s say you meet a Tinder date for a hookup. Is a one-night stand really worth the risk of exposure? What am I really seeking? Is it connection, release, validation, company or just the comfort of not being alone? Are there other ways I can get my needs met that won’t put me at risk? And can you still meet some of those above-listed needs if you put physical intimacy to the side for a while and just focus on building an actual emotional connection with someone on a virtual and openhearted level? You can still meet your own sexual needs by yourself while enjoying emotional intimacy that is also sustaining and fulfilling.
If you decide the risk of a casual encounter is worth the benefit to you, then be sure to inquire about your date’s travel, health, job and whether anyone your date knows has tested positive for COVID-19.
If you’re meeting up with a boyfriend or girlfriend (as opposed to a hookup), you likely already know the risk your partner has of being infected with the coronavirus.
Although some may balk at the idea, wearing a mask during sex could be a good idea, especially if you are high-risk or your partner is high-risk, or if you or your partner haven’t been social distancing or strictly wearing masks, or if you simply don’t know your partner that well and what your partner’s exposure risk is. Until we understand this virus better, enjoy sex at a distance (such as via sexting). Wait to have sex with someone you know is virus-free, and even better, someone with whom you have built a real, lasting connection.
Q: Some states are beginning to slowly reopen, but you still have anxiety about the coronavirus. How should you respond when friends want to get together at a restaurant?
A: What I see happening as areas slowly reopen and as people develop quarantine fatigue is a battle between FOMO (fear of missing out) and FOGO (fear of going out). Which fear is more likely to rule the day has to do with each person’s psychology and perception of risk.
There is clear-cut, data-driven science that indicates that going to a public place where you will not completely social distance and you will not mask, in order to eat, comes with some risk of contracting COVID-19. How much risk will vary with the area and infection rates. But how individuals feel about the risk can depend on whether they handle fears by avoidance or psychological denial.
Knowing that you are potentially exposing yourself and thereby your loved ones to COVID-19 by dining and being served by a group of strangers, you may decide not to do it, period, to avoid the danger. Or you may, even unconsciously, tell yourself that you don’t “feel” at risk or that the risk is tiny and “to heck with it” — you will charge ahead and just do it.
What gets really tricky is when your group has different mechanisms for managing anxiety. One person wants to go to restaurants and bars, and another wants to avoid any situations that don’t permit social distancing and masking. Be willing to openly and nonjudgmentally share your feelings. Be understanding that these are highly stressful times that bring out myriad anxieties in most of us. Avoid blame and accusation.
Trust that you can talk and maintain a friendship, even when you choose to be different from one another or disagree. Peer pressure to do something that puts you at risk means your peers either don’t understand that’s how you feel or you are too afraid to disappoint them — and you need to work on that. It’s OK to say you’re not comfortable yet, something real friends will understand.
A: There are a few ways you can respond, depending on what you think is the safest option for yourself and others. The important thing to keep in mind is that communication is crucial when we are adapting to new norms.
If you’re feeling anxious about getting together with your friends at a restaurant, you could let them know that as much as you would like to spend time with them in person, you would prefer to meet virtually to reduce the risk to everyone you come in contact with. If your friends decide to honor your decision and have a virtual dinner gathering, you can suggest some fun ideas, like ordering dessert to be delivered to your friends. Or set a budget and order food for one another like Secret Santa.
If you’re comfortable with meeting in person, but would prefer to meet outdoors rather than in an enclosed space, you can suggest picking up to-go orders separately from a restaurant and setting up a picnic outside with enough room for everyone to space themselves out. It’s important to follow social distancing rules even while we’re gathering outdoors.
If your friends insist that they want to get together at a restaurant, let them know you still have anxiety or concerns about gathering in an enclosed space. You should express your appreciation for their invitation and suggest they get together without you this time. Let them know that you’ll join them in the future when you feel more at ease about dining in a restaurant.
Etiquette post-COVID-19 isn’t just about being kind and respectful; it’s also about being considerate about other people’s health and safety by taking appropriate preventive steps. Remember to not be hypercritical of others and yourself, as we are all adapting to this new normal, especially since everyone is taking varying degrees of precautionary measures when it comes to their health and safety. In the end, the core values of etiquette, which are kindness, respect and courtesy, will continue to ring true.
Q: What should you do if you are sick or need a COVID-19 test, but don’t have a car?
A: It is a good question and important that people are aware of the risk of exposing others. First, check to see if there is a testing site close to where you live to comfortably walk to, if you are feeling well enough.
If not, ask to have someone drive you — with both of you masked, you sitting in the back and the other person driving. To reduce the risk of exposure, wipe down all the surfaces you touch when you leave the car. You can also use a ride service, such as Uber or Lyft, with you sitting in the backseat and wearing a mask. Lastly, if you must use public transportation, remember to wear a mask and stay as far from others as possible.
Most importantly, if you are feeling very ill, specifically if you are short of breath or having chest pain, you should call 911.
— Dr. Nancy Glick, Infectious Disease, Mount Sinai Hospital
A: The CDC recommends prioritizing patients for testing who have symptoms of potential COVID-19 infection, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell, vomiting or diarrhea, and/or sore throat.
Most people can self-isolate safely at home if they are medically stable and not having a medical emergency. If you are having emergency warning signs for COVID-19, you should call 911 immediately. Emergency warning signs include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, bluish lips or face. This list is not all of the possible symptoms. For any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you, call your medical provider.
If you are a Cook County Health patient and do not have transportation, call 4-RIDE. Otherwise, call your primary care provider for options.
— Kimberley Conrad Junius, Cook County Department of Public Health
Q: Your company has decided to go back to the office, but you don’t feel safe doing that yet. How should you handle the situation, given the economy and job security?
A: In a matter of a few short months, the guidelines for etiquette have shifted. Safety comes before etiquette. As we do our best to adjust and with many stay-at-home orders ending, returning to our jobs probably feels rushed and scary.
For many, unemployment will come to an end, and employees will have to decide if they are comfortable heading back to work. For starters, know your local rules and regulations. Workplace protections can be different based on where you live.
Depending on your circumstances, if you are able to discuss your concerns with your boss, do it. If you can’t refuse to return to work, you can still try to negotiate. Perhaps you can reach an agreement to continue to work from home a couple more weeks until you feel comfortable.
When it’s time to go back to the office, continue to abide by the guidelines put in place by health officials.
Communicate your fears to your employer. For peace of mind, find out what protocols have been put in place to help ease your fears. Things are going to feel awkward for a while. But the rules of social etiquette still apply. It’s all about feeling comfortable and having others around you feel comfortable. When in doubt, refer to the core values of etiquette: respect and consideration.
A: This is such a difficult situation because it really pits your financial security against your physical security.
The first step is communication: Talk to your boss, and ask if you can do your job remotely. The biggest concern for a manager is that you won’t work as hard from home. Address that head-on by explaining that you will be working even harder from home (no commute time) and will be just as accessible and accountable.
If this approach doesn’t work, then you will have a tough choice to make. Can you afford to be unemployed for a potentially lengthy period of time? This is not a good market for job seekers. If you need this job to sustain you financially, then you will head back to work in as safe a way as possible.
Now that you have opened the lines of communication with your boss, ask if the office will be requiring everyone to wear masks and maintain at least a 6-foot distance from one another. Let’s hope the answer is yes.
Q: Should you tell your neighbors they’re too noisy during shelter in place, or let it go?
A: Unless it’s disrupting your sleep or work from home, I’d let it go. We’re two months into shelter in place, and keep in mind that our neighbors are probably going stir-crazy as well. If they want to learn a TikTok dance? Let them. If they want to blast Tegan and Sara all day? Maybe question their emotional state, but that’s their prerogative. (At least they have good taste!)
As a fellow loud neighbor and karaoke enthusiast myself, I’m no stranger to noise complaints. While others are baking sourdough, I’ve resorted to belting “She Used to Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles in different keys. So far, no passive-aggressive knocks from the other side of the wall.
If the noise is persistently occurring at odd hours, you can leave a kind note at their door (maybe throw in some fresh-baked banana bread) and ask them to be more mindful. You can request that they tone it down without asking them to quit their hobbies altogether.
If you absolutely cannot sit through the noise any more, I would recommend writing down the dates, times and any additional details. Once you’ve compiled a good case, reach out to your landlord and provide the document. Your landlord can serve as a mediator between you and your neighbors.
Ultimately, whatever you choose to do, do it with kindness. Who knows how much longer we’ll be living like this. If you’re rude to your neighbors about being too noisy, they have every right to return the favor next time you’re trying to drunkenly pronounce “X Æ A-12” over a Zoom happy hour.
— Phillipe Thao, amateur time-waster and writer
A:I think that during this global pandemic, we need to summon as much empathy as we possibly can and try to be even more understanding than normal. I think all of us are looking for some sort of escape, some sort of relief from quarantine. We all want to get back to some semblance of our former, normal life.
If your neighbor has music that is too loud or is being too noisy, as long as it’s not eardrum breaking, I would let it go the first time. We are all under stress, and if we really look inward, we’ve probably all been a little too loud. But if it’s insanely loud, I would say something.
If it happens again, I would text or call my neighbor, very respectfully and politely. You can say something like, “I know this is a terrible time for all of us. We’re all trying to find a little relief from this quarantine, from this situation we’re all in. Would you please be so kind as to turn the noise level down a little bit?”
I think most people will be respectful of that and turn the noise down. Being an empathetic neighbor means we all have to be as mindful of everyone’s situation as we can. Everyone is stressed. I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t stressed!
If your neighbor doesn’t answer your text or call, things will get trickier because knocking on your neighbor’s door seems intrusive, given the virus.
If you live in an apartment and don’t know your neighbors that well, contact the front desk, if the building has one. If not, call the building manager or super to reach out to the neighbor.
Q: How do you politely tell people they’re not on mute during a work Zoom call?
A: The most important thing is to be subtle and gentle about it. You can always send a private message to let them know that they haven’t turned the microphone off.
Alternatively, depending on your comfort or familiarity with the meeting attendees, you can always make a lighthearted remark about it. The key is to avoid calling someone out if you can and to make it seem as if they’ve arrived at the conclusion on their own. For instance, if you hear someone ordering dinner in the background, you can say, “Oh fried chicken sounds great, Jenny.”
It’s a group setting, and you want to avoid embarrassing everyone.
The other thing to keep in mind is that these types of things happen as we’ve switched to remote work. And with more virtual and online interactions, it’s inevitable that mishaps will happen. As long as we approach them with poise, grace and empathy, I don’t think it’s a big deal.
A: I don’t tell people, and that isn’t a flippant answer, or because I’m being too polite (however Midwestern I may be).
I genuinely find whatever life they are trying to shut out more interesting than the life they are trying to present. So when someone thinks he’s muted and starts talking to his cat, it is very refreshing! There’s a real human being emerging on the other screen!
Zoom calls are too performative; how could they not be? Work Zooms are often the worst kind of Zoom calls — no one knows how casual they can be. One of my colleagues summarized it best as “a blurring of the public and private spaces.” It’s unfiltered, unairbrushed life rearing its ugly, little head. There is no way I’d want to mute that precious gem.
Q: You see people out in public not wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart. Should you say something?
A: It’s a complicated decision. You certainly have a right to speak up if someone is in your personal space or not wearing a mask in your vicinity.
The way you do it is the key. Say something in a polite tone such as, “Would you kindly take a few steps back? I’m doing my part to social distance, and I have no further space to back up on my end.” Your tone of voice is important when making a request or comment.
As much as you might feel irritated, if the person is not in your immediate vicinity, it’s probably best to stay in your own lane. Especially when going out of your way to chastise other people means getting in their space, violating the 6-feet rule.
If it’s your family members or close friends, feel free to speak your mind. But confronting strangers may put you in physical danger in more ways than one, since you don’t know their behavior. If people aren’t wearing masks in a retail store, speak to the manager. If someone is standing too close in line and not wearing a mask, you might say, “Excuse me, but I’m concerned about our close proximity and the fact that you aren’t wearing a mask. Let’s both take several steps back.”
We have a right to speak up to protect ourselves but also should use good judgment. Sometimes the best course of action may be to remove yourself from the situation.
A: If I see people out in public not wearing a mask, I make sure they are aware that I am going to stay away from them. Basically, distance yourself further from them.
When I am outside walking with my son, I have sometimes even said loudly, “Let’s make sure to get away from that person. She is not wearing a mask.” I have hopes that the person not wearing the mask can hear me.
In this day and age, being a person of color, you can never tell when people want to get confrontational. I tend to just figure that I am going to worry about my own safety because I want to believe they are informed. And if they aren’t, I am quite loud when I am with my son.
— Alvaro Saar Rios, playwright
Q: How do you turn down a friend or acquaintance asking for a ride in your car?
A: In response to this question, many people will come up with reasons to get out of giving the ride — going in the opposite direction, errands, no gas, etc.
Why should you have to make up excuses for something you don’t want to do? We do this because saying no is difficult for most of us. The fear of being considered mean or rude paralyzes us and forces us into saying yes. We need to learn to worry more about ourselves and less about what others think of us. A true friend will not hold this against you.
Someone is asking you for a favor. Honesty is the best policy. Simply tell the person that you can’t. Most people who ask for a ride actually need the ride, and when you decline, they will continue looking elsewhere. They have moved on. You should move on as well and not let your decision drag you down.
Thanks to the existence of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, this question should be asked less and less. Of course, COVID-19 has made this much easier because the simple answer is I can’t; for your safety and mine, I’m practicing social distancing.
A: It’s time to level with your friends. Normally, I would come up with a list of reasons why it’s OK to do it or excuses you could legitimately have if you really didn’t want to.
This isn’t about “want” anymore. “Want” was an adorable notion that left with time and outside clothes. ‘Tis gone.
We are coming up on the two-month mark of social distancing (for most of us), and we’re all wondering if and when we’re going to show symptoms. Look your friend in the eye via FaceTime/Zoom and say, “Nope.”
If friends or acquaintances cannot understand your position, they’re not taking this pandemic seriously enough. And frankly, they don’t have to understand it, but you have to make the boundary for yourself and others.
But, if friends are disabled, immunocompromised or elderly, and need safe transportation for basic needs, consider asking if you can run the errand for them. Wear gloves (or plastic baggies), maintain your 6 feet, bring whatever they need to the doorstep, come home and light everything on fire (Fine. Or wash it. I guess.)
Another alternative is to let your friend use your car if you haven’t been in it in a while and if you aren’t using it for the next … well … long, long time. You can sanitize the keys. This option is for emergencies and people you trust to drive your car.
Otherwise? We need a “flatten the curve” emoji we can send as shorthand when someone asks to be in our breathing space.
Q: You have to use an elevator on a daily basis. How should you use it safely during the coronavirus pandemic?
A: If you have to be in close proximity to people outside your household, you should wear a face mask to prevent the spread of the virus. The masks are actually intended to stop people from breathing, coughing or sneezing the virus into the air, rather than to block a person from breathing it in. If you can, wait until the elevator is empty and ride it alone.
It’s also best to practice respiratory etiquette if for some reason you aren’t in a mask — cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw the tissue away as quickly as possible. At this time of heightened sensitivity, these measures prevent the spread of illnesses, and they also demonstrate respect for other people who may be anxious about catching the new coronavirus.
There’s no need to panic about contracting the virus on an elevator. The current belief is that it is prolonged exposure to a person who is infected that will make it more likely you’ll contract the virus. Still, we recommend that everyone who can stay at home to keep front-line workers safe and to prevent the additional spread of the illness.
Droplets from an infected person are contagious, so the risk of transmission increases the closer two people are to each other and the longer the exposure lasts. Contact with inanimate surfaces like elevator buttons is not an efficient means of transmission, so hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer minimize those risks. Use hand sanitizer when you are outside your home, and wash your hands as soon as you can get to a sink.
— Dr. Irfan Hafiz, infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital
A: While waiting for the elevator, we should stand 6 feet from one another. Depending on the elevator’s capacity and the floor we need to reach, we can apply common sense.
If you’re going up a couple of floors, take the stairs if you can. If you are with a larger group using the elevator, appropriate personal space should apply, and only a few people should use the elevator at a time. This might be hard to achieve in a small elevator, but we should still try our best.
Inside the elevator, we should refrain from conversations, positive or negative. It is hard to talk through a mask anyway, and sometimes if we are passionate about presenting our point, we might get physically closer to the other person in the elevator.
If we want to maintain a positive demeanor and upbeat attitude, we can still greet our fellow riders with just a nod of the head; and a brief “Good morning” would be ideal. With a friendly gesture, we can let people leave the elevator before us, and try to avoid being unnecessarily close to one another.
Q: How should you break up with someone during shelter in place?
A: We are in a time of deep intimacy in relationships. There’s nowhere to hide, no choice except vulnerability. Some couples are seeing clearer compatibility, and others, more dissonance.
If you know it’s time to end the relationship, that is being shown to you now for a reason. We are being asked to assess everything in our life and make sure it’s in alignment — and to let what’s not, fall away. If you’re not aligned, it’s time to release it.
Some of you want to wait until this passes. If that’s you, I want to remind you that not only does nothing look perfect right now, but perfectionism has in fact been an illusion the whole time, and we’re simply seeing that clearly now. There is no perfect way to end a relationship. And if your breakup is going to be messy, there’s no avoiding that, no matter what state the world is in.
For those who aren’t living together, breaking up is much the same as before, only now through a screen.
If you live together, it’s not as simple. Perhaps you’re not sure how one of you would move out while you shelter in place, or there may be other complications to consider.
The truth is you don’t need to have it all figured out. All you need to do is speak the truth. The rest will come. Together, you will find a way.
That may seem oversimplified, but for example, when a couple separated precorona, they didn’t know what was next either. The person leaving likely didn’t have a new home chosen. There’s always uncertainty; most of life right now is uncertain, not just your relationship.
Ending your relationship will look different. You will likely go more slowly, take more time to complete, have a more emotionally intimate experience in the breakup. It won’t be a transaction. What if treating it differently during this time changes you both for the better?
— Laurie Davis Edwards, alignment coach and founder of The Worthy One
A: For some, the coronavirus quarantines may simply be accelerating a split that was already in the making. For others, it may be causing one or both members of the couple to reassess priorities.
Whatever the reason for splitting, I’d urge couples who’ve been in a longstanding relationship to hold off on initiating any drastic measures until after the easing of shelter-in-place restrictions. With anxiety and stress elevated for so many of us, removing yet another block from the foundation of a partner’s well-being would be uncaring and callous. It’s a different story entirely if there is abuse happening or if both parties are clearly on the same page and don’t share a residence. A mid-epidemic exit is also excusable if the relationship is a relatively new one and didn’t have much of a chance to blossom before COVID-19 hit.
For the rest of us, particularly those who may feel as though the downtime and introspection opportunities afforded by quarantining have provided new clarity of thought, I advise waiting until life begins to ease back into normal.
Once things do normalize, have the conversation face-to-face. Have it in a quiet, comfortable place where you both can share your feelings. Have your say, and do lots of listening too.
If you are requesting a divorce and you share children, that adds further urgency to holding the conversation with delicacy and respect.
If you share a residence (whether as a married couple or live-in partners), you will need to figure out living arrangements as you work out your parting. Definitely not something you want to be doing in the midst of a pandemic.
Though the decision may be a painful one, patience and civility will ease the path to new chapters in both of your lives — ones that will be written with each of you standing way more than 6 feet apart.
Q: During shelter in place, you’ve received a lot of chain letters and Zoom invites. You don’t want to participate, so should you decline the invite or just ignore it?
A: As someone who received no fewer than four quarantine recipe exchange emails in two days, I can certainly relate. They all say exactly the same thing, word for word, telling the recipient to forward this on to 20 (!) people and even putting a deadline on it of five days. If I’m being honest, it’s a pretty pushy chain email!
The truth is, I don’t find these types of chain emails a must-respond for any of us. These name-swapping form emails are so far from personal emails or letters that deserve a sincere response that you shouldn’t feel guilty if you decide not to participate. Not to mention 80 of your closest friends will likely thank you for not adding them to the chain.
If you are truly interested in participating, it’s best to first reach out to the friends you intend to include and ask them if they want to participate. That is truly the most considerate way to go about it. That way, they have the option to decline instead of feeling guilty about “breaking the chain.”
Zoom calls, however, require a different approach because they are more personal in nature. When hosts send invites hoping to see your face and hear your voice on the line, they deserve a proper yes or no response. Etiquette doesn’t dictate that you have to give a reason for declining, though. A simple, “Thank you for thinking of me. I’m so sorry I’m unable to make it this time,” will do!
A: I am amazed by extroverts. The way they have grafted cocktail parties and board game nights into a government-mandated social stasis astounds me. Last weekend I was invited to a Zoom dance party where attendees equipped with headphones listened to raucous music and privately yet publicly jammed out at their webcams. While I’m tickled by the innovation of these digital gatherings, they don’t scratch the same itch for me as bona fide, in-the-flesh contact.
We’ve all experienced some of the petrifying effects of shelter in place. And if you don’t have the energy to attend a cocktail hour where we all have to take turns speaking, sipping drinks crafted from the dregs of our pantries, occasionally switching to virtual palm tree backgrounds in half-hearted attempts to be silly, just send a 3-second text to decline. A lightweight “I’m not feeling up to that right now, but please have fun!” communicates that you still appreciate them thinking of you. Even just a dependent clause or two expresses that you would if you could, but today, you quaran-can’t.
As for the myriad social media challenges circulating like the time-honored “send this to 10 people or your grandmother will fall in a bottomless pit,” please feel empowered to swipe them away, or respond with brevity. If the trauma of COVID-19 has you feeling like a piece of gum stuck to a sidewalk, that’s OK. You have no obligation to bake a cake, take a shot, or re-create a TikTok dance, no matter how many times you’re tagged in someone’s story.
— Jack Disselhorst, actor and writer
Q: What should you talk to your Tinder match about while in quarantine?
A: Of course you’re most likely going to talk about the coronavirus, but don’t make your whole conversation about it. Talk about things you would’ve talked about before the quarantine! What are your usual social activities and hobbies? What usually keeps you busy? What kind of things are you currently doing to occupy your time? All of these things are great ways to find out who your matches actually are.
It would be real easy to take the conversation to a negative place with so much uncertainty going on in the world. While there is a lot to complain, worry and stress about right now, think of your conversations as an escape from the coronavirus heaviness. Talk about what you look forward to doing post-quarantine. You could even talk about how you’re using this time to dive into new creative projects or learn new dance moves via TikTok. Be real, but do your best to encourage lighthearted banter as well.
Don’t share everything about yourself as soon as you match. If we are to be social distancing for months, you want to keep each other interested and eager to talk again. Think about setting a time limit for messaging/chatting/FaceTiming. You might have a lot of time on your hands right now, but that doesn’t mean that you give all of your time to one virtual crush. Take your time and enjoy getting to know new people. It will make it that much sweeter when you get to meet each other face to face.
A: Although being quarantined doesn’t make your dating life any easier, the one advantage is having the opportunity to truly get to know other people on a deeper level. You want to have conversations about the topics that matter to you in everyday life, so that when our lives go back to normal, you have a good sense of who your Tinder matches are, what their lives are like and if you could potentially see yourself dating.
A great topic to start with is discussing what is most important to you, your interests and what you are passionate about.
Your conversation should have a nice balance between topics like your pet peeves, something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t yet done and your biggest fear, and also lighter topics like your most embarrassing moment, what your favorite food is and your favorite Netflix shows.
Be sure to bring up topics that are most important and relevant to you and your life. For example, if you have a dog, be sure that the person you’re talking to likes dogs. If you work out six days a week, be sure to ask if fitness is important to the other person.
People show you who they are with their responses. Pay attention to what people are saying and how they’re making you feel during your communication. Do you hear any red flags? Is the person holding your attention? Do you have things in common? Take this time now to evaluate your feelings and determine whether it’s worth continuing to invest time and energy in this person.
Q: You live with your partner but want to quarantine separately (inside or outside of your home). How should you tell your partner this?
A: Fourteen days of home quarantine can make your soul mate feel like a cellmate. Adequate space apart is even more important to a couple’s happiness than having a good sex life, according to one study. If you’re convinced that you want to ride out ‘rona solo, here are a couple of options on how to tell your mate.
You could simply tell your mate that you’ve been exposed by someone who has tested positive and that to lovingly, selflessly protect your mate, you intend to quarantine apart. This speech can be as dramatic as a scene from “Gone With the Wind” or stated matter-of-factly.
Or you could be transparent without being harsh. Reassure your mate of your love and say that you don’t want to mess that up. Assure your mate that missing each other and having time for yourselves would best feed the love you have for each other.
No matter what, speak with compassion, and listen to learn. Create a loosely structured plan for how things could go. The plan should include couple time, “me time,” work projects, money issues, health considerations and personal accountability. Offer to work with your mate on the plan, and to set reasonable expectations. If you have kids, disregard this article. You’re stuck as one, so go pull your weight.
A: I recommend you approach this as you would any conflict: by creating a relationship agreement. First, reassure your partner. Even if you want to quarantine separately because your partner is eating all of the snacks or is making you feel suffocated, you want to remind your partner that you still want the relationship. Remember to be direct, request what you need and say why you need it. Also, follow up with more reassurance, so that your partner doesn’t feel that your wanting to quarantine separately means you want to separate.
So your talk should sound something like this: “John, you know I love you, and all of this talk about social distancing and staying home to stay safe makes me realize how bad I’d feel if you were to get the virus because of me. That’s why I want to quarantine separately. I’ll stay upstairs, and you can go to your man cave. I need to know that we’re both taking this seriously. What do you think about how I feel? I really appreciate how you always put our relationship first.”
Be ready and willing to negotiate the terms of this agreement, which means you have to be clear about what you can say yes to (you taking the basement, or grocery shopping and meal prep before you separate) and what your hard no’s are (no hooking up with other people, virtually or otherwise). And make sure you understand your partner may have a strong emotional reaction to your idea of being apart from you right now.
This pandemic is stressful in and of itself. Add job changes, working from home, general boredom, anxiety about catching the virus, and you have a recipe for a make-or-break moment. Be gentle but clear, and you should be able to figure out a solution that both of you can accept.
Q: How do you ask your roommate to stay away from you while quarantined due to the coronavirus?
A: Because of this pandemic, social norms, routines and expectations have changed from what was originally agreed upon when you moved in together. For many people, working from home is the new norm, and in many households, two to three people are now under the same roof doing what they normally would have done separately in their own office spaces.
For this reason, having “process”-oriented conversations instead of just “content” conversations is necessary. “Content” refers to what is being talked about, and “process” means how you are talking about it. Instead of just focusing on the changes in routines and schedules, focusing on how these changes can be implemented is productive and impactful.
I would hope the use of shared spaces (i.e. bathroom, kitchen, living room) is already respectful regardless of COVID-19, but tidiness, cleanliness and timeliness may need to be discussed and renegotiated based on each roommate’s comfort levels.
Finally, it is a common narrative that the increase in time together under one space leads to dysfunction. Taking this opportunity to increase closeness is essential. Instead of focusing on how to not drive each other crazy, I would encourage roommates to look for ways each of you can spark joy and have productive time together. Knowing what we don’t want from others does not always translate into what we do want.
A: Sometimes, people differ on what precautions they’re willing to take for their physical and mental health. Roommates, like it or not, are in this thing together, and it’s best to clear this up before people become uncomfortable in their own living space.
I have two roommates; all of us are artists and, now, un- or under-employed. This has taken some adjustment, as part of our living arrangement has been that all of us would be constantly on the go between gigs and social engagements. Space has become a premium like never before! But by being direct without being rude, we’ve been able to address topics like having guests over, shared working areas, increased chores/groceries, etc.
It may not be fun, it may even be awkward, but you can’t let things just be “business as usual,” hoping that people agree with you on every boundary and guideline without any discussion. You are well within your rights to say, “We are in the middle of a pandemic, and however much I’d like to, I can no longer share space with you.” After all, there’s nothing usual about the current state of affairs! Just don’t be passive-aggressive — that’s a whole other can of worms, believe me.
— Spencer Ryan Diedrick, theater director and administrator
Q: How should you tell a family member to postpone a planned gathering like a first birthday party or a confirmation due to the coronavirus?
A: Nobody likes to be told what to do. We all like to be self-directed. The person who has the authority to cancel a family event is the person hosting. If you are a relative and are concerned about the event breaching the social distancing or other recommendations made by a health agency or government, you can let the host know that you feel it is a bad idea and share your concerns for the well-being of others. Recommending ideas and sharing one’s opinion are different from barking orders and instructing someone to cancel an event.
You might consider forwarding current recommendations from credentialed health agencies about protocols in your area for gatherings as the rationale for why you feel the event should be rescheduled.
Remember to share the positive aspects of why moving the date would be helpful, even if only to reduce the fears of your guests, or to eliminate how badly some friends and family members will feel for letting you down, or how they’ll feel about missing the celebration. It’s more inclusive if you delay until all can attend.
Money may play a factor. If the host can’t get a refund for a room rental or other expenses, you may want to pass the hat or be generous and help out. The event may end up being later, smaller or virtual, and while that is not what the host had expected, planned or dreamed of, if you keep a positive attitude, you can bet everyone will remember the year that the coronavirus messed up the party planning but it couldn’t stop you from having fun eventually with lifelong stories later!
— Alyson Schafer, family counselor, parenting expert and author of “Honey, I Wrecked the Kids”
A: Given how fast the COVID-19 virus is spreading, you are wise to practice social distancing to quell the virus. Social distancing essentially means staying away from others to avoid catching or spreading the disease.
Because of the seriousness of the virus, you may be tempted to tell others how they should behave during this health crisis. However, it is never our place to tell family members or anyone else what they should or shouldn’t do unless you are asked for your advice.
If your relative is intent on holding a planned gathering while the virus is still spreading, simply decline the invitation. Explain you are concerned about catching or spreading the coronavirus and feel it best you don’t attend. If the host is a close family member, such as a son or daughter, you could share your concern that invited guests may feel uncomfortable attending while the virus is active and it might be best to postpone.
Ultimately, it is up to the hosts to decide if they want to take the risk and for the invited guests to determine if they are comfortable attending the event or not. If enough invitees decline the invitation, the host will need to postpone the celebration.
— Arden Clise, etiquette expert and author of “Spinach in Your Boss’s Teeth: Etiquette Essentials for Professional Success”
Q: How should you tell people you don’t want to shake hands or have other physical contact because of coronavirus?
A: Misery does not love company. With more questions than answers, the world is feeling the effects of the coronavirus. But whether it’s this new disease or the common cold, always be considerate when you’re in public spaces. A handshake is risky business, so lead by example.
At this stage of the disease, reduction of any physical contact is recommended, thus the handshake has been replaced by germ-free gestures. Some acceptable germ free gestures to use instead of shaking hands are: an air kiss, royal wave or a namaste greeting. (Apparently, elbow bumps are now out.)
Although the handshake is a natural physical greeting, COVID-19 is a perfect example of how etiquette is evolving. It’s almost impossible not to have physical contact when greeting someone, and up until a couple of months ago, the handshake was an accepted form of communication. Not anymore. The handshake is on hold for what could be an indefinite period of time.
Here are four ways to tell someone you’re not comfortable with physical contact or shaking hands without being offensive:
1. I’m happy about not spreading any germs that I might have and doing my small part in shutting down this person-to-person disease.
2. I recently got over a cold and still don’t feel comfortable with physical greetings.
3. It’s odd not shaking hands, but because everyone else is avoiding it, it feels like the new normal.
4. It feels funny to refuse someone’s hand, but at least there’s a medically acceptable reason for it.
— Lisa Grotts, the “Golden Rules Gal” and etiquette expert
A: As a stand-up comedian who shakes hands and shares microphones with dozens of people a week, and as a woman who has spent a lifetime trying to avoid unwanted contact from strangers, here are some tips:
Be honest. Everyone is up to date on how quickly this virus is spreading. Simply telling people, “I’m trying to keep my hands to myself for the next few weeks” or “I just washed my hands” should be enough for anyone who has read the news in the last month. If that doesn’t work, just start coughing wildly, and watch the good folks scatter.
Initiate a no-touch alternative to shaking hands with an air five, bro nod or simple, unflinching eye contact for 10 to 15 whole seconds. The last one will help you avoid that person indefinitely.
Ask your boss to send out a memo requesting that everyone be aware of body boundaries, and that unless people explicitly ask you to touch them, you shouldn’t. This step is also known as: The Section in Your Employee Handbook About Harassment.
Please also keep in mind the importance of staying at home if you’re feeling sick, cleaning “high touch” surfaces frequently, and washing your hands throughout the day. Hand washing should be done for about the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. If it’s your actual birthday, throw in an extra round for yourself.