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Back in March, Zoom was like a shiny new toy we wanted to play with all day, every day. But after months of virtual cocktail hours, cooking competitions and game nights, we’re kind of over the whole “set up a video conference to see your friends” thing. As many states ease up on coronavirus stay-at-home orders, we’re starting to think about how to safely see people other than those we’ve been quarantining with.

Note that until there’s a vaccine, there’s always going to be risk associated with interaction. Still, according to the CDC, you can make activities safer if:

  • You can maintain at least 6 feet of space between you and others. COVID-19 spreads easier between people who are within 6 feet of each other.
  • They are held in outdoor spaces. Indoor spaces with less ventilation where it might be harder to keep people apart are riskier.
  • People are wearing masks. Interacting without wearing masks also increases your risk.

Here are five ways to maintain your friendships—safely and without a Zoom password.

5 Tips for Maintaining Your Friendships and Seeing Friends Safely Right Now (Don’t Worry, None of Them Are Zoom)
lechatnoir/getty images; digital art by claire chung

1. Only Meet in Person with Small Groups

As much as we’d love to throw a giant backyard barbeque with 20 of our nearest and dearest, that’s just not safe (and not worth the risk, either). Here’s how the CDC defines the risk of COVID-19 spreading at events and gatherings:

Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings.

More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear cloth face coverings, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city or county).

Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.

Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.

While the CDC doesn’t put an exact number on what’s a safe group to see, it’s clear that you’re safer with outdoor gatherings where you can be at least six feet away from others. It’s also important to note that as much as you want to give your best friend a bear hug after six months, avoiding physical contact is paramount. For now, stick to an excited jumping wave or dramatic air kiss. 

2. If You’re Meeting in Person, Prepare

No, we don’t mean prepare what kind of meats and cheeses you’re packing in your picnic basket (though that’s important too). If you are meeting with friends you haven’t quarantined with, set boundaries ahead of time, so everyone is on the same page when you see each other. Be completely honest with your pals about your level of comfort and make a game plan for how your meet-up will go down. By ironing out the details ahead of time, you can jump right into catching up instead of figuring out who’s OK with what.

3. Stick to Food, Drinks and Conversation

As tempting as it is to host one of your famous game nights in the comfort of your backyard, it’s best for now to stick to activities that require the least touching of shared surfaces. That massive Jenga set or adult card game you read about on PureWow? They’re fun, sure, but they’re also really risky from a germ-spreading perspective. For now, stick to activities where you can bring your own materials (food, drinks, etc.) and limit the things you and other folks are touching.

4. If You’re Not Ready to See Your Friends in Person…Don’t

You want to see your friends, you really do. But there’s a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you’re just not ready to socialize in person. That’s OK. When we spoke to Jason Woodrum, ACSW, a therapist at New Method Wellness, he told us that “normal” is whatever you are comfortable with. “Whatever your boundaries are, discuss them with those around you regularly. People will respect and understand your continued need for safety.” Though you might feel awkward or silly or like you’re overreacting, you know your body and mind best, and you shouldn’t be afraid to do what feels right for you. 

5. Explore Non-Zoom Virtual Options

If you’re uncomfortable with in-person hangs and you’re over the whole Zoom thing, consider the myriad other ways you can connect virtually. Whether it’s a text message book club, workout challenge or re-downloading an app you deleted years ago (like Snapchat or Words with Friends), there are tons of options for staying connected without sharing the same physical space.

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