Dating During the Pandemic: Can You Trust an “Antibody Positive” Claim?
As many singles know, finding love can be a challenge, even at the best of times. But searching for her online during a global pandemic is something really complex and involves tricky new dangers. While some speculative dating app sweeps continued throughout the quarantines and semi-closures in the United States, singles report that in-person dating had basically froze when stopped until the last few months. As cases are increasing again, many wonder if it is safe to even consider meeting new people in any social setting, let alone potential sexual partners.
Some online daters have adjusted to the new normal and proudly state on their profiles that they are ‘COVID-antibody-positive’, apparently implying that they have already had the virus and are now clear to mingle freely. . The COVID-19 pandemic is still firmly entrenched around the world, with no vaccine or treatment immediately available. Does a positive antibody test result result in a pandemic meeting room discharge?
“The data clearly shows that we don’t know what is clear,” says Peter Chin-Hong, infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. Even though antibody tests help determine if someone has already been infected with the virus, this information may not be useful in the dating arena. “There are a variety of tests available, so just stating that you are ‘antibody positive’ does not provide any evidence that allows someone to discern if the test is. [Food and Drug Administration–validated] or specific to COVID. And we don’t know how long antibodies to natural infections last. We are already starting to see re-infections emerging. Even if someone tested positive X times ago, that does not mean that they are currently protected. It is not a passport to sexual freedom.
A case study published in the Lancet Journal of Infectious Diseases in October describes two cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection (the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19) in the same individual, a 25-year-old Nevada who exhibited more severe symptoms in his second bout. The authors concluded that “all individuals, whether or not they have previously been diagnosed with COVID-19, should take identical precautions to avoid infection with SARS-CoV-2.” There was at least four other confirmed cases of reinfection, one in Hong Kong, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ecuador. Researchers at Imperial College London recently discovered that COVID-19 antibody response decreases over time. “It is still not clear what level of immunity the antibodies provide,” they concluded, “or how long this immunity lasts.” And of course the antibody questions apply to all social situations, not just online dating. This means that upcoming vacation reunions, weddings, parties, and even just casual get-togethers with friends are full of uncertainty.
Dana (not her real name), a 38-year-old Tinder user from Portland, Oregon, says she has encountered a lot of COVID-related content dotting the profiles of potential partners. “I have occasionally seen a ‘no COVID’ disclaimer in the bios, which like STI status how can anyone 100% trust [that]? She said, referring to the practice of disclosing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in dating profiles in a spirit of total transparency. But while some parallels can be drawn between STIs and COVID (as both can have health implications for partners), experts are quick to point out that the two categories are not equivalent.
“With HIV, for example, the antibody test is pretty durable, and we know what that means,” Chin-Hong says. “People use it on apps for similar reasons, but it has a completely different meaning. With the COVID antibody test, people intend to show that they are “protected”. But that’s not how antibodies work. “
Antibodies are Y-shaped protein that bind to viruses or other invaders in the body and trigger the immune system to destroy harmful intruders. “Antibodies are soldiers. I think of them as a viral stun gun that neutralizes a virus, ”Chin-Hong says. “You can get them artificially by infusing them. Or if you catch the virus, you can develop it to protect yourself if you are exposed again. The problem, however, is that science doesn’t yet know precisely enough about COVID-19 antibodies to be certain whether a positive test result actually indicates immunity.
Humans had never identified the novel coronavirus before this pandemic, and there is still a lot of unknowns surrounding the variability of its impact on our health. Some infected people produce high-quality antibodies that effectively and precisely identify and eliminate the virus. Others produce weaker ones that offer partial protection. And some do not produce it at all. Current antibody tests do not take this variability into account, making it impossible to know what level of immunity a person has (if any) or how long it may last.
According to the doctor James zehnder, director of clinical pathology at Stanford Medicine, the inherent uncertainty of COVID-19 antibody testing makes it an unreliable method for screening dates. “Not all people with COVID have an antibody response,” he says. “There are false positive tests, and we don’t know how long or how protective these antibodies are.” Zehnder says the current best test to rule out SARS-CoV-2 infection is a system called viral reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) , but even with this approach, false negatives are within the realm of possibility.
Charlie, a 37-year-old Grindr user in Brighton, England who asked to be identified only by first name, says he deleted the app at the start of the pandemic but slowly started sweeping again. “I asked a few guys to convince me that they already had COVID and the antibodies, and used it as a sex pass during the pandemic.”
Dana says she was the victim of a simple rejection of COVID-19 safety precautions. “The overwhelming direct message I get from guys is basically, ‘The world is on fire. Let’s throw caution to the wind and make love as soon as possible, ”she said. “We are carnal beings. I do not deny it. But it’s absurd to me that in the midst of a global pandemic, some people really believe that their handful of photos and one sentence of no-info are engaging enough that a girl could put her health at risk. Come on, gentlemen, at least try to make us laugh first.
Chin-Hong says he understands the impulse to comment on antibody tests in the context of a dating profile. “Existentially he says, ‘I care about COVID, and I want to show that I took the time to get tested and show you that I’m willing to go the extra mile to interact with you,” said. “And he’s also like, ‘I’m lonely, and I want to take things to the next level, and I’m done with FaceTime and being socially estranged.'”
Camille (not her real name), a 30-year-old woman from Orange County, California, says she has encountered many COVID-related remarks on the Hinge and Coffee Meets Bagel dating apps. When she matched up with a hospital worker who expressed serious concerns about the virus, she felt that an in-person meeting could be a reality. “We started chatting and then met a few times on video calls until we both felt comfortable meeting up for coffee safe and socially distant,” says -it. But then, Camille’s potential date contracted COVID-19. He was eager to reprogram, even before receiving a negative test result. “I was still uncomfortable and asked that we wait. He didn’t take it very well, ”she said. “He said he didn’t have to say he had COVID at all, which to me was terrifying – that there were probably people on dating apps, with COVID, not holding no account of who they meet. “
After months of uncertainty, many people are still grappling with questions related to COVID, such as whether a person who currently has active antibodies can still pass the virus on to someone who does not. According to Chin-Hong, this is a scenario we may not need to obsess over. “It is unlikely that an antibody positive person would be able to effectively transmit SARS-CoV-2 to an uninfected partner in general,” says Chin-Hong. “There is a theoretical risk that an antibody positive person could act like a large surface – like a doorknob, you touch it, then you touch your nose or your mouth and theoretically you are infected. But this is unlikely, because it is not the best route of transmission. “
So, what can single people do in this atypical time? “My advice would be to take the time to get to know someone before meeting you in person,” says Melissa cushing, director of transfusion medicine and vice president of laboratory medicine at New York – Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine. “Make sure you understand the COVID risks they take in their day-to-day life (not wearing a mask or avoiding large gatherings, etc.) because their risks will become your risks. You should be comfortable with the way they deal with COVID. A single lab test result will be much less important than daily behaviors. “
In an attempt to alleviate some of the pressure fueled by uncertainty, apps are offering new digital dating options like Bumble. “virtual dating tools.And Tinder recently launched “Face to Face,” a new video chat feature. The app also consulted Peter Pitts, president of the Center of medicine of public interest, to develop what Tinder calls “5 Tips for Getting Back to IRL Dating.” In addition to advocating for masks and social distancing when dating in person, Pitts encourages Tinder users to “get tested if you can but remember, even if you have antibodies, to always practice good health.” and good hygiene. It is not yet clear whether the antibodies protect you or make you less carrier. “
40-year-old San Francisco resident Teresa (not her real name) has used dating apps throughout the pandemic and says she is settling into the new normal of life single in the COVID era. “I’m going to continue dating,” she said. “I am a responsible person and I go out responsibly. You never know if someone is telling the truth anyway, so all you can do is take precautions and trust your instincts.