Is It OK To Visit Someone's House If You're Both Social Distancing?
Right now, it's easy to understand that we can't physically visit restaurants, hair salons, or workout studios because, well, they're closed. But other aspects of social distancing are a bit more nuanced. Whether you're wanting to visit a significant other after you've both been quarantined, or you're a divorced parent sharing custody of a child—is it OK to go back and forth between different households as long as both people are social distancing?
We consulted two health care professionals and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to answer those trickier social-distancing questions. Admittedly, the answers are not cut and dried.
Can I go back and forth to another person's home if we're both social distancing?
Limiting in-person contact with others is currently the best way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Social distancing, also known as physical distancing, should be practiced by everyone—even those who are seemingly healthy. According to the CDC guidelines, social distancing means "keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your home."
Specifically, they recommend staying a minimum of 6 feet away from others, avoiding crowded places, and not gathering in large or small groups. "When COVID-19 is spreading in your area, everyone should limit close contact with individuals outside your household in indoor and outdoor spaces," the CDC writes. "Avoid large and small gatherings in private places and public spaces, such as a friend's house, parks, restaurants, shops, or any other place."
Only going back and forth between your apartment and one other person's apartment to spend one-on-one time together may or may not count as a group gathering. But it does involve coming into close proximity or contact with someone outside your home.
"If people want to see their partner regularly, it would probably be more beneficial not to commute back and forth," integrative medicine doctor Amy Shah, M.D., tells us. Instead, you can temporarily move in together, or choose to stay apart and connect virtually for the time being.
If the people in both households are practicing thorough hand hygiene, wearing masks in public, and are able to travel both ways without breaking social distancing guidelines, it might be OK to go back and forth. The risks of doing so are just higher than if you were to shelter in one place, especially if either of you has roommates.
The potential risks of visiting someone else's home.
"The CDC and top public health and infectious disease experts like Anthony Fauci, M.D., want us to self-isolate with people who live in our homes," says integrative medicine physician Aditi Nerurkar, M.D., MPH, "since these are our daily, direct contacts."
If you choose to travel back and forth, you need to consider indirect contact as well, meaning, you have to keep in mind not only who you yourself are coming into contact with but also who those individuals may have been interacting with prior to seeing you. For example, you and your friend may both be visiting only each other, but each of you may also have roommates who may be visiting their friends' homes, and some of those people may have jobs that prevent adequate social distancing, and so on and so forth.
Ensuring that all parties involved are healthy is nearly impossible, especially since asymptomatic cases have contributed to the spread of COVID-19.
Can kids go back and forth between two parents' homes?
"If parents share custody of a child, they should stay at one person's house right now," Shah explains. Limiting interactions with several people can help ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Holistic child and family psychologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS, offers a different opinion. "Given the tremendous amount of upheaval in everyone's life right now, especially for children," she says, "it makes sense for families to maintain their custody schedules unless there is a compelling reason not to."
Compelling reasons might include an elderly or otherwise vulnerable person living in one of the parent's homes or changes in work schedules that make it impossible to be home.
"Parents should obviously be open to flexibility based on what will best meet everyone's needs during this time," Beurkens says. "However, kids and parents should continue to have the benefit and stability of time spent together."
This less-interrupted time spent with kids is also an opportunity to provide consistency and routine for them, which children need.
The bottom line.
Practicing social distancing and sheltering in just one place is the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus and minimize your own risk of exposure. If you do want to visit another person's home, make sure that you know the extent to which all people in both households have been adhering to social distancing and other safety protocols so you can properly assess the risks.
Spending an extended time away from loved ones can be challenging. If you're staying home and have minimal contact with others, you can still find ways to stay socially connected while physically distant.