You’ve got the dreaded COVID-19. Unfortunately, your friend has it, too. But maybe you’re lucky, and neither of you is feeling too sick to get out of bed. Does this mean you can plan a movie marathon, host a popcorn party of two, and weather out the virus together?
It was a question asked through Curious Philly, our platform where readers ask us questions, and reporters hunt down the answers.
In general, experts say it’s not a good idea. Here’s why.
“The safest thing is to stay at home,” says Patricia Henwood, associate professor of emergency medicine at Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College, and leader of the Emergency Medicine COVID-19 Task Force at Jefferson Health. “We want people to avoid public transportation or anything else that could cause others to become exposed.”
If you hop in an Uber to get to your friend’s house, you could expose the driver. Take the bus or subway, and you could expose the driver and other passengers. Even driving your car could involve running into other people, whether strangers on the sidewalk or next-door neighbors.
While masks and social distancing help prevent transmission of the virus, they’re not foolproof. A quick, masked, socially distanced encounter on the streets is considered low risk, but the coronavirus is highly contagious, and when you know you’re sick, all risks should be avoided. This means staying at home, away from others.
There is one scenario, experts say, where it’s reasonable to make an exception: you own your own car, it’s parked in front of your house, and your gas tank is full enough that you won’t have to make any pit stops.
“Let’s say it’s two partners who test positive and are both symptomatic — it’s not necessarily a bad thing for people to be together and take care of each other, as long as you make sure to avoid any potential exposure [to others],” says Henwood.
But you’d both need to be symptomatic, and ideally have been tested.
As we know, you can be infected with COVID-19, but be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. If someone has symptoms, but you don’t, it’s not recommended that you hang out, even if you’re able to safely transport yourself to their house.
“We generally consider people who are symptomatic to be in one category and people who are asymptomatic in a different category,” says Henwood. “Erring on the side of caution, if you’re not symptomatic, I would avoid additional exposures.”
There isn’t enough research yet about the differences between asymptomatic and symptomatic coronavirus cases.
Even if both you and a friend have symptoms, and you have a way to safely commute, some experts would encourage you to ask yourself, “How necessary is it to see this other person?” Will you be taking care of each other as partners, or are you primarily trying to ward off boredom?
“Your friend could have tested positive, but they actually got a false positive result. While they’re rare, they do happen, and then those symptoms could just be a cold or flu,” says Michael LeVasseur, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University.
As LeVasseur points out, false positive test results — a test result that says you have the virus when you aren’t actually infected — aren’t common. But who wants to take the risk of getting sick, or getting someone else sick?
“The concern here is protecting yourself, and keeping our case numbers down. Our hospital systems are about to be overwhelmed nationwide,” says LeVasseur. “Isolation means isolation. Just stay home, alone.”