Social Distance Dilemma
March 19, 2020 7:04 PM   Subscribe

Two of my friends are moving back to their home country in a couple of days. I'll likely never see them again. They've invited me to a goodbye-brunch tomorrow, and I'm torn between maintaining social distance (which I find absolutely critical right now) or seeing my friends for the last time. What's the safest call here? If it is "keep social distancing", how do I break it to my friends?

I'm a fourth-year undergrad student and am located in Scotland. Our town doesn't have many cases yet. Our university classes are now all online and international students have been recommended to return home if necessary. Due to this, my two friends (who are roommates) are theoretically moving back to their hometown in a few days, doing our online classes there, and getting their diplomas mailed to them for graduation. I'm very likely to never see them again, since they live pretty far away and we've historically struggled to maintain our bond with online-only communication.

I've known them for roughly two years. I wouldn't call them my best friends, but they're the only friends I ever made at uni, and I have a genuine good time with them. They're definitely worried about the virus, but they don't seem to be taking it as seriously as I am (like, they were both at the library yesterday, and have continued to go to the gym).

They invited me to a brunch at their apartment tomorrow as a goodbye. I initially said yes without really thinking about it, but now that I am—I'm super worried. I don't have any covid-19 symptoms, but I could be asymptomatic, and I'm extremely wary of potentially infecting them when they're right about to get on a plane and fly home to their families. Still. I know they really want to see me. And I know that me cancelling day-of would lead to a lot of “but this is the last time we'll ever see each other!” and “we don't have symptoms, it's okay! This isn't a big deal!” I'm also worried they'd take it as a sign that I don't care about them enough to risk a quick brunch, and that it would ultimately harm our friendship or leave it on a sour note.

Obviously, if I did end up going, I'd be very careful with hand-washing, contact, and wouldn't share any food. I'd much rather avoid going, though. I'll offer an alternative of a Skype brunch, but I don't know if they'll jump on the idea. I have a history of trauma, so standing up for myself or holding my ground is incredibly hard for me. It feels crucially important for me to do so here, though, for the sake of others who can't afford to get sick.

My question is: should I take the risk and go to this final-goodbye brunch? If not, how do I stand my ground when I tell them and break it to them gently? Thank you so much, and stay safe.
posted by runnerfive to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Worry about it until you feel sick, and then tell them you’re Skyping in because you have symptoms of ???

If you’re any good at white lies, you can leave off the first step. I’m not.

Then set calendar reminders to write them remotely. LD friendships are slow but sometimes they stick eventually.
posted by clew at 7:15 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]

Chat through a closed glass window, using a phone or skype for audio.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:19 PM on March 19

They probably shouldn’t be hosting a brunch. So I would I say don’t go, and find a way to make up for it later on.
posted by sucre at 7:25 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]

It's just you and them or a larger group?
posted by geegollygosh at 7:35 PM on March 19

This issue was addressed in a recent AskMe: COVID-19 gathering

And according to Scotland's NHS:
Social distancing measures are for everyone. We should all be trying to reduce social interaction between people in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). [...]

What is social distancing?

[...] Avoid gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars and clubs

Avoid gatherings with friends and family - keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
Perhaps relying on the government authority can help with explaining your decision to your friends.
posted by katra at 7:48 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]

Also, in related news that bolsters the government information listed above: Coronavirus: Sturgeon tells Scotland 'life will change significantly' (BBC, Mar. 17, 2020)
Nicola Sturgeon has warned that life will change "significantly" in Scotland due to stringent new coronavirus measures.

The first minister said "we will get through this" as she reiterated the need for every citizen to reduce all non-essential social contact.

[...] Ms Sturgeon said the UK was "on the cusp" of a rapid acceleration in cases, with numbers likely to double every few days. [...] She continued: "We must step up the measures that we take to slow the spread, to protect our NHS and its ability to provide care and treatment to those who need it and crucially, to save lives.

"I am acutely aware of the anxiety people will feel right now. We are all in this together. If we do the right things and all follow the advice being given, we can get through this and we will get through this."

[...] Scotland's chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said there was evidence in Scotland of "sustained community transmission". She said the priority was to reduce the number of people coming into the NHS and prevent services - particularly intensive care and respiratory wards - from becoming "overwhelmed".
posted by katra at 7:59 PM on March 19

You've already seen these friends for the last time. Stay home.
posted by great_radio at 8:11 PM on March 19 [12 favorites]

You know what you need to do.
posted by medusa at 8:14 PM on March 19

Here's an idea for how to break it to them gently, which is a quote from a doctor on the front lines in NYC, asking everyone to stay at home: "A few weeks from now you may call me an alarmist; and I can live with that. Actually, I will keel over with happiness if I’m proven wrong."
posted by katra at 8:36 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]

Our town doesn't have many cases yet.

Correction: your town doesn't have many cases that you know about yet. Here's a sobering story from a town of 3,300 in Italy. They thought they had 2 cases, but after testing everybody - regardless of symptoms - found out they had 66 cases. This is likely reflective of any place that has a few identified cases but has not yet tested widely - a few known cases may represent many, many asymptomatic or unidentified cases.

Don't be the asymptomatic carrier transmitting this virus locally and internationally. Don't risk acquiring the virus by not following the excellent advice on social distancing provided by your local government and health system - see katra's links above.

Stay home, stay safe, and keep others, all of us, safe. Thank you.
posted by lulu68 at 8:40 PM on March 19 [12 favorites]

Meet them outside at a nearby park or outside, bring your own blanket and picnic food, and don't hug or get within 1.5 metres.
posted by Elysum at 9:15 PM on March 19 [6 favorites]

Here in CT, a 40-guest goodbye party resulted in 14 cases of illness. (article)
posted by xo at 9:18 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]

People are making tough decisions right now. I have brunch every Saturday with an older friend who is 70+, in poor health, and very prone to picking up viruses. He is also a complete optimist and is being extremely reckless in his exposure. I’m 95% certain he’ll get coronavirus, and I’m about 20% certain he won’t survive it.

There will be no more brunches for the foreseeable future, despite what I’m certain will be his belief that I’m far too cautious. I would trade anything to make sure he survives this, and being embarrassed by what later looks like an overreaction is the very least I can do.

We are living in extraordinary times, but we have the opportunity to make small, distasteful compromises now so that we do not have to make enormously painful sacrifices later. Please do your part in that.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:18 PM on March 19 [8 favorites]

Brunch or anywhere we are close to others indoors for an extended period of time provides all the characteristics necessary for transmission. Doubly worrisome if some participants are getting on a plane. Good for you for thinking about this.
posted by lulu68 at 9:59 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]

It's not impossible that one or both of them want to cancel too, but are stressing about it for the same reasons you are.
posted by trig at 12:14 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

Why not invite them on a goodbye video chat, and then instead of never seeing them again, scheduling a regular video catchup for the three of you?

In the last weeks I've seen a huge theme of people becoming socially much closer, even while being physically more distant. I spent more time socialising over video chat this last week while not leaving the house than I ever spent socialising when I thought it had to involve going out!
posted by quacks like a duck at 12:45 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]

I appreciate the perspective, everyone. I'll make the right call and cancel—I'll Skype them instead. Good ideas on setting reminders to regularly videochat with them, too, that should help with keeping in touch. Thanks again, and take care.
posted by runnerfive at 2:34 AM on March 20 [11 favorites]

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