Navigating the tricky social dos and don’ts of COVID-19

Sabrina Almeida

How do you tell a friend that you’re not comfortable with hugging during a pandemic? Or remember to refrain from giving hugs yourself? Is it okay to ask if all guests are vaccinated when you’re invited to a social gathering? Is it impolite to enquire how many people have been invited to the backyard barbeque? Should you decline the invitation if some guests are unvaccinated, or the numbers are too large for your comfort?

COVID-19 has made navigating the social landscape tricky. And even though we’ve had more than a year and half of pandemic schooling, one often finds oneself in a huge gray area during social gatherings.

The new social dos and don’ts enforced on us by COVID-19 can seem impolite and awkward when you’re with loved ones from other households. For instance, it’s natural to want to hug and so instinct might triumph over common sense many times. Oops!!!

Frankly, the easing of social restrictions makes it even harder to remember COVID is still around and putting personal safety first often makes one seem standoffish or the odd-one out.

So, should you follow the crowd and hug like everyone else or risk falling out of the social circle by avoiding any physical contact like you want to? Yes, it’s a trick question because we’re not out of the pandemic yet! So, we must maintain and respect personal boundaries.

Having said that, I’ve been in a few tricky situations which can be pretty embarrassing for those committing the new social faux pas. The best way to avoid this is to politely ask the person if it’s okay to shake hands or hug them. It’s way better than dealing with the awkwardness in the room when someone shrinks away from your grasp or side steps your handshake.

And what should you do when someone hugs you without asking? No, don’t glare at them or give them a tongue lashing. You should’ve come prepared. Inform the next person who comes around that you’re not hugging or be ready to do a fist or elbow bump. Some have taken it up a notch with a foot shake. At the very least it evokes some laughter and relieves the COVID tension.

If it’s family and close friends that you’re with, then you’re probably aware of whether they’re okay with touching or not. A few in my social circle are not and we respect that.

Going a step further, it’s preferable to ask if you can sit next to someone too. Some friends preferred to sit by themselves at outdoor gatherings last year which ruffled a few feathers, but they were perfectly within their rights to do so. Individuals might have good reasons to want to socially distance like underlying medical conditions or vulnerable family members. Ironically, some might even be trying to protect you because they could be essential workers who interact with members of the public in their work. We shouldn’t judge them for being cautious or isolate them either.

But here too, explaining the situation can put everyone at ease. Talk your way through. It’s absolutely okay to say why you want to maintain physical distance.

I also believe it is the duty of the host to establish and explain the new COVID party parameters. One should definitely be aware of guests’ vaccination status and share it with other invitees without naming people who might not have taken their shots. People have a right to know whether other invitees are fully immunized. It also gives them the option of declining if they don’t want to mingle with the unvaccinated.

A few friends have been open about their preference and I appreciate their honesty.

Eighteen months of living with the coronavirus has also taught us to stay away from crowded spaces and large gatherings. So being thrust into a social situation with a lot of people, without warning, is not acceptable. Being allowed 25 people doesn’t mean they can or should be crammed into a small backyard or basement. It’s a petri dish even among the fully-vaccinated. You should have enough space for your guests to physically distance from one another. And if you don’t care, remember your guests do. So, tell them how many people you have invited to your event.

As for whether you should talk about vaccines during a party or social event… preferably not. Should you not be able to resist the temptation to ask the question, share your vaccination status first. It makes it less intrusive. But it’s definitely not okay for you to try and convince or argue with a vaccine-hesitant individual in a social setting.

We’re social beings who’ve been forced to isolate ourselves from extended family and friends for more than a year. Meeting up can be an emotionally-charged time. Yet we must express our happiness and excitement in COVID-appropriate ways and while respecting personal and COVID-induced boundaries. Might as well get used to it, the coronavirus is going to be with us for a while.





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