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Love in the time of coronavirus: How COVID-19 is changing Tampa Bay’s dating scene

Close encounters put people at risk of catching the infectious disease. Even Tinder and OkCupid are weighing in.
A couple holds hands during Tampa Bay Comic Con in 2016.
A couple holds hands during Tampa Bay Comic Con in 2016. [ Times (2016) ]
Published Mar. 10, 2020
Updated Mar. 13, 2020

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This story was updated on Friday, March 13 at 4 p.m.

Bianca Thomas always has been sensitive about anyone coughing around her. She wipes down her shopping cart at the supermarket and stocks up on Lysol wipes. She even avoids cold, uncooked foods like sushi.

So imagine how the 30-year-old Tampa resident felt when she learned her new love interest ended up in the hospital with an upper respiratory infection. He caught something from a co-worker who had returned from overseas.

Thomas’ new man didn’t meet the criteria to be tested for coronavirus. Still, these days, that’s a lot to think about.

“As much as he holds a near and dear place in my heart, I don’t know if I want to be around him right now,” she said, laughing. “I would probably want him to be completely well before we hang out and be a little bit closer."

Coronavirus is keeping a lot of people from getting closer these days, especially when it comes to dating — and any other forms of personal contact that may ensue from there.

“We heard things about, ‘What about casual dating, what about going out to a nightclub or nightlife in general?'” said Dr. Luke Johnsen, medical director of LGBTQ nonprofit Metro Inclusive Health.

“As of right now, we don’t have a lot of diagnosed cases in the United States, so it’s difficult to judge how paranoid you need to be about it."

Related: Touching makes us human. Coronavirus makes it complicated.

Experts agree that kissing “could definitely spread it,” according to the New York Times. Past coronaviruses, like MERS and SARS, were not transmitted sexually. The World Health Organization says it’s too soon to tell whether COVID-19 can be passed from one sexual partner to another via intercourse.

Still, close encounters put people at risk, especially since an infected person may become contagious before they start showing flulike symptoms.

“Any time you have intimate contact with somebody, you are actually pretty darn close,” Johnsen said. “That person turns around and coughs or sneezes and here you have a means of infection.”

To put users at ease, dating app Tinder started promoting health tips from the World Health Organization between swipes.

“While we want you to continue to have fun, protecting yourself from the coronavirus is more important,” reads one message before advising users to carry hand sanitizer and maintain social distance in public gatherings.

“Tinder understands that our members are oftentimes meeting new people in-person, and, given the current environment, we wanted to remind them of the precautions they should take,” a Tinder spokesperson wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

Tinder users are presented with a list of health tips to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. The info card appears in between profiles and links to the World Health Organization's website.
Tinder users are presented with a list of health tips to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. The info card appears in between profiles and links to the World Health Organization's website. [ Courtesy of Tinder ]

Meanwhile, OkCupid is asking its users to weigh in.

"Does coronavirus affect your dating life?” the app sent as a push notification leading to a dating survey Monday.

Other online spaces, like the three Facebook groups that Jacklyn Crisanti runs for Tampa Bay singles, were treating the disease with less concern.

“A lot of them have been posting funny memes like ‘Be careful who you’re kissing,’ (and) the Corona (beer) image,” said Crisanti, 28.

Crisanti also runs her own event management company that hosts singles mixers. She plans to combat the disease by bringing hand sanitizer to speed dating — something she did even before COVID-19.

That’s a good idea. But remember that not all hand sanitizers are created equal. The most effective thing one can do to reduce the spread of the coronavirus is thoroughly wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the Singles of Tampa Bay Facebook group, people weren’t panicking — yet. Crisanti uploaded a video to the group earlier this month asking members if they were concerned about the coronavirus.

“Not worried,” one member wrote. “I carry limes.”

Still, after large gatherings were canceled around the country last week, Crisanti noticed a dip in ticket sales and attendance for in-person events. Thursday’s mixer had 80 people marked “interested” on the Facebook event. Only 10 tickets were sold.

Crisanti hopes her speed dating events bounce back by April. It’s how she makes a living.

As for her own love life?

“I’m definitely not planning any first dates anytime soon,” she said.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

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