By Jake Beckman, Associate Digital Producer
Chicago (CBS) – With non-essential businesses and college campuses closed, young people may find themselves with more free time than usual and may be experiencing high levels of boredom. For those who use dating apps and websites, there is a temptation to connect with new people in person, despite the warnings to practice social distancing.
CBS 2 spoke with Dr. Kate Vergara, PhD, MPH, a Chicago-based public health specialist who focuses on infectious diseases, to learn more about the risks and concerns related to physical and sexual contact during the coronavirus pandemic.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Jake Beckman (JB):
It seems that a lot of people are still using dating apps and are looking to meet with other people. Focusing on young adults, is this a good idea?
Dr. Kate Vergara:
Young people have such an important role to play in this and taking social distancing seriously can really be the critical difference in what we are going to see over the next coming weeks.
Definitely connecting with people online – FaceTime if you’re comfortable sharing your number, or you can use WhatsApp – that‘s a way you can protect your phone number and connecting over the internet.
It’s really not recommended that you’re meeting up with new people, and certainly not hooking up with new people.
It’s about transferring what is very likely a non-symptomatic case of COVID-19 that you could be getting.
It’s not only protecting yourself, and protecting the person you’re going to meet, but all of who you come in contact with other people.
Meeting up for the first time, I would recommend doing it online for a bit. You can still keep it really sexy – you can send sexy text messages, pictures, and even video calls.
Modeling that behavior and not meeting up for now, making plans for the future, can still be exciting.
Since this virus is spread by bodily fluids, can COVID-19 be spread through sexual contact?
Dr. Kate Vergara:
From CDC.gov: “It is not yet known whether other non-respiratory body fluids from an infected person including vomit, urine, breast milk, or semen can contain viable, infectious SARS-CoV-2.”.
However, like I said, while it is not currently defined as a sexually transmitted infection, there is a high likelihood that “close” contact, including sexual contact, would present an opportunity to be exposed to the virus.
Let’s say that a month from now, everything is on track, restaurants are opening up and people are starting to meet again. What are some measures young people should take when they resume dating?
Things are changing on a daily basis, sometimes an hourly basis.
The most important thing is to connect with the real science and the recommendations that are linked to that actual evidence-based science.
The best place to go is cdc.gov on their COVID-19 page.
You’re going to have information that people are dedicating their lives to, making sure that they protect the population as best they can.
So when things change and those social distancing are a little more relaxed, that’s the place to go to know if that’s appropriate or not.
When public health officials make the determination that we are able to be in public, start to open businesses and meet in groups again, then that is going to be related to what we know about the disease and what we know about our capacity to handle it.
When those social restrictions are lifted and you can go out and meet other people, then all of the rest of it is opened up too.
We need to make sure as a whole nation, and a world population, that we are aware of that.
When you do enter back into the world and social distancing isn’t recommended, then of course healthy sexual practices are still going to be on board.
All of these things that we’re putting more attention on, like washing your hands and not touching your face – those things are great all the time.
When they say ‘hey, let’s start having concerts again, let’s go meet up’ and online dating is all green lighted, it’s still a great practice to never give up. We should keep that in place always.
Do you have any final words of wisdom for young people looking for love right now who are impatient?
You are the best ones to figure out this chapter.
There’s been so much technology and creativity in how to connect, and young people: I’m learning from you on how best to do that.
Video calls, WhatsApp. Maybe some of the dating sites will actually have safe video calls on those apps pretty soon. I’d imagine that’s going to come.
As long as we’re working together with the scientists who know how to protect people, and all the young people that know the technology way better, I think we can find a place where you can still keep it really sexy and still keep it really safe for everyone.