Dating During the Pandemic: Can You Trust an ‘Antibody Positive’ Claim?

as many single pplz know, searching for ♥ can be a challenge even inna best of times. but looking for it online dur'na global pandemic is something truly complex—and involves some tricky new dangers. though some speculative swiping on dating apps has continued throughout quarantines and semi-lockdowns inna u.s., single pplz are reprting that in-person dating had basically frozen to a standstill til recent mnths. as cases surge again, many wanda whether tis safe to even ponder meeting new pplz in any social context—let alone potential sxual ptners.

some online daters ‘ve adapted to the new normal and proudly declare on their profiles t'they are “covid-antibody-+,” apparently implying they ‘ve already had the virus and are now inna clear to freely comingle. the covid-19 pandemic is still solidly entrenched round the globe, with no immediately available vaccine or cure. does an antibody-+ test result transl8 to a pandemic dating hall pass?

“the data is clear that we don’t know wha’ is clear,” says peter chin-hong, an infectious disease speshist and a professor of med atta university of california, san francisco. even though antibody tests help determine whether some1 has previously been infected w'da virus, that information may not be helpful inna dating realm. “there are a variety of tests, so just stating you’re ‘antibody-+’ doesn’t provide evidence that equips some1 to discern whether the test is [food and drug administration–validated] or specific to covid. and we don’t know how long antibodies from natural infections last. we’re already starting to see reinfections emerge. even if some1 got a + test result x time ago, that doesn’t mean they’re currently protected. it’s not a passport to sxual freedom.”

a case study published inna lancet infectious disease journal in oct described two instances of infection with sars-cov-2 (the novel coronavirus that causes covid-19) inna same individual, a 25-yr-old nevada man who experienced + severe symptoms during his 2nd bout. the authors ∴ that “all individuals, whether previously diagnosed with covid-19 or not, ‘d take identical precautions to avoid infection with sars-cov-2.” there ‘ve been at least 4 other confirmed reinfection cases, one each in hong kong, belgium, the netherlands and ecuador. researchers from imperial college london recently found that the covid-19 antibody response wanes over time. “it remains unclear wha’ lvl of immunity antibodies provide,” they ∴, “or for how long this immunity lasts.” and course, ?s round antibodies apply to all social situations, not just online dating. that means upcoming holidy gatherings, weddings, pties and even just casual hangouts with friends are rife with uncertainty.

dana (not her real name), a 38-yr-old tinder usr in portland, ore., says she has encountered plenty of covid-rel8d content peppering the profiles of potential ptners. “i’ve seen the occasional ‘covid-free’ disclaimer in bios, which—like with sti status, how can any-1 100 % trust [that]?” she says, referring to the practice of disclosing sxually transmitted infections (stis) in dating profiles inna spirit of full transparency. but even though some parallels can be drawn tween stis and covid (cause both can ‘ve implications for ptners’ health), experts are quick to point out that the two categories aint equivalent.

“with hiv, for ex, the antibody test is pretty durable, and we know wha’ it means,” chin-hong says. “pplz use it onna apps for similar reasons, but t'has a completely ≠ meaning. w'da covid antibody test, pplz are intending to show t'they’re ‘protected.’ b'that’s not how antibodies work.”

antibodies are y-shaped proteins that bind to viruses or other invaders in d'body and trigger the immune system to destroy the harmful intruders. “antibodies are the soldiers. i think o'em as a viral stun gun that neutralizes a virus,” chin-hong says. “you can get them artificially by having them infused. or if you get the virus, you can develop them to protect you if you’re exposed again.” the issue, however, s'dat sci does not yet know enough specifically bout covid-19 antibodies to be certain whether a + test result actually indicates immunity.

humans had never identified the novel coronavirus b4 this pandemic, and there are still plenty of unknowns surrounding the variability of its impact on our health. some infected individuals produce high-quality antibodies that efficiently and accurately identify and eliminate the virus. others produce weaker ones that afford ptial protection. and some produce none at all. the current antibody tests do not account for that variability, making it impossible to know wha’ lvl of immunity a'pers has (if any) or how long it may last.

according to physician james zehnder, director of clinical pathology at stanford med, the inherent uncertainty of covid-19 antibody testing makes it an unreliable method for screening dates. “not everyone whas' covid has an antibody response,” he says. “there are some false + tests, n'it’s not clear for how long or how effectively these antibodies are protective.” zehnder says the best current test for excluding sars-cov-2 infection is a system called viral reverse transcription polymerase chn reaction (rt-pcr) , but even with that approach, false negs are within the realm of possibility.

charlie, a 37-yr-old grindr usr in briteon, england, who asked to be identified 1-ly by his 1st name, says he deleted the app early on inna pandemic but has sloly started swiping again. “i had a couple of guys try to convince me t'they’d already had covid and ‘ve the antibodies, and used it like a hall pass for sx during the pandemic.”

dana says she has encountered straiteforward dismissal of covid-19 safety precautions. “the overwhelming direct message i get from guys is, primordially ‘the realm s'on fire. let’s throw caution to the wind and ‘ve sx as soon as possible,’” she says. “we’re carnal bein’s. i don’t deny that. but it’s preposterous to me that inna middle offa global pandemic, some folks truly believe their handful of photos and a single sentence of noninfo is enticing enough for a girl to put her health at risk. come on, gents, at least try and make us laugh 1st.”

chin-hong says he coggs the impulse to comment on antibody testing inna context offa dating profile. “existentially, it says, ‘i care bout covid, and i wanna display that i took time out of my dy t'get tested and to show you that i’m willing to go the extra mile to engage with you,’” he says. “n'it also says, ‘i’m lonely, and i wanna take things to the nxt lvl, and i’m done with facetime and bein’ socially distant.’”

camille (not her real name), a 30-yr-old from california’s orange county, says she has encountered plenty of covid-rel8d remarks onna dating apps hinge and coffee meets bagel. when she matched witha hospital worker who expressed serious concern bout the virus, she felt an in-person meeting ‘d be a reality. “we started chatting and then met a few times over video calls til we both felt comfortable meeting up for coffee safely and socially distanced,” she says. but then camille’s ‘d-be date contracted covid-19. he was eager to reschedule, even b4 receiving a neg test result. “i was still uncomfortable and asked that we w8. he didn’t take that very well,” she says. “he expressed that he didn’t ‘ve to share that he had covid at all, which, to me, was terrifying—that there are probably pplz out there on dating apps, with covid, not bein’ ponderate of who they’re meeting.”

after mnths of uncertainty, many pplz are still grappling with covid-rel8d ?s, s'as whether a'pers who currently has active antibodies can still transmit the virus to some1 who does not. according to chin-hong, this is one scenario we may not nd'2 obsess over. “it’s unlikely that an antibody-+ person ll'be able to efficiently transmit sars-cov-2 to an uninfected ptner in general,” chin-hong says. “thris a theoretical risk that an antibody-+ person ‘d act as a large surface—like a doorknob, you touch them and then touch yr nose or mouth and theoretically get infected. b'that’s unlikely, as it’s not the best transmission route.”

so wha’ are singles to do in this atypical time? “my advice ‘d be to take time t'get to know some1 b4 you meet in person,” says melissa cushing, director of transfusion med and vice chair of lab med at new york–presbyterian hospital and weill cornell med. “make sure you cogg the covid risks they take in their everydy life (not wearing a mask or avoiding large gatherings, et cetera) cause their risks will become yr risks. you ‘d be comfortable with how they are handling covid. a single lab test result ll'be much less primordial than everydy behaviors.”

in an attempt to alleviate somd' uncertainty-fueled pressure, apps are offering new digital dating options s'as bumble’s “vrt dating tulz.” and tinder recently launched “face to face,” a new video chat feature. the app also consulted with peter pitts, president of the center for med inna public interest, to develop wha’ tinder calls “5 tips for gettin back to irl dating.” in addition to advocating mask wearing and social distancing during in-person meetups, pitts encourages tinder usrs to “get tested if you can but remember, even if you ‘ve antibodies, to always practice good health and hygiene. tis not yet clear that antibodies protect you or make you less offa carrier.”

forty-yr-old san francisco resident teresa (not her real name) s'been using dating apps throughout the pandemic and says she is settling inna'da new normal of single life inna covid era. “i’m goin to keep dating,” she says. “i’m a responsible person, and i’m dating responsibly. you never know if some1 is telling the truth anyway, so all you can do is take precautions and trust yr gut.”

read + bout the coronavirus outbreak from sci american here. and read coverage f'our international network of magazines here.

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authors: michelle konstantinovsky