Is your mask and distancing behavior different with friends or family than when in public? If there is a difference, why? When we asked those questions, young adults reported making choices that range from the hard decision to curtail visits home to see family, to feeling safely unmasked with family or select friends. Here’s a look at what they’re thinking:
“The only time I see friends is one at a time, socially distanced, masked and outdoors. And even that’s pretty rare. Haven’t been to a restaurant since the beginning of March and the only public space I’m in is the grocery store. I miss being around people of course but it’s never worth risking my life or the people around me.
“I’m even more cautious with my family because both of my parents are immunocompromised. I’ve barely seen my family this whole pandemic, and when I have we’ve been outdoors like 20 feet apart with masks on.”
— Shea, 20, Olympia
“[We are] not eating out, going for lots of walks, picking up takeout and really only leave the house for appointments, grocery and seeing my parents.
“One thing that’s changed is my feelings about saying no to things. At the beginning of last year I felt guilty, and like I had to rationalize why I wasn’t comfortable doing something. Now I’m confident in setting hard boundaries and that’s been really beneficial for us! I think I’ve also become smarter and more efficient about sanitation and mask-wearing. We have a washing and storage system, and our home has changed a lot to accommodate more cleanliness.”
— Emily, 21, Mercer Island
“I’ll go out to dinner or bars where you are seated separately, but will only hang out with my teammates and roommates. I still just follow school and city policies, but I’m more cautious around strangers now since I know lots of college students aren’t safe here at all.
“Since we are in [tennis] season we will get shut down from COVID, so there’s more at risk if you expose your team. Like right now I’m in quarantine because one of my teammates got COVID from his roommate who wasn’t being safe and now the entire team is quarantined.
“Something else interesting [Loyola University New Orleans] found through surveys was that students are more afraid of quarantine than they are of COVID, so they will not report symptoms or get tested as to not get quarantined.”
— Noah, 20, New Orleans
“[I] haven’t gotten to see my family in almost two years.
[I spend] definitely less time in public, meet with friends occasionally. My major requires tons of time sitting in front of screens to work on projects. Before COVID there were class times that we didn’t have to literally sit in front of screens, we just needed to use the computer whenever working on the projects; now it’s just sitting in front of the screen for more than seven hours almost every day for both classes and making stuff.
“Because of the travel ban and everything going on before, my family just couldn’t come to visit me [nor was I able to go] back home. Both ways will cost way too much money and quarantine time.
“[With friends] most of the time we meet outdoors at the park or at the brewery, socially distant, and wear a mask besides the eating time. Rarely if I go to visit some friends in Seattle, we meet in their house after confirming we are both COVID free, and they’re work-from-home people. All the friends I have seen since COVID started are pretty low-risk people.”
— Mavis, 27, Bellingham
“I see friends outdoors socially distanced, only seeing my roommates inside. I am getting tested regularly through school though so am comfortable visiting my sister semiregularly.
“[Spending time with people] is much more intentional, which has a lot of ups and, of course, a lot of downs. Like before when spending time with people I think it was based on chance and running into them. Now it’s like, okay, we’re setting aside like two hours. Same with the phone calls. I think the phone call used to be sort of this casual thing. And now it’s like, we have dates. We have phone call dates. So I think the casualness of seeing people has sort of gone away. And with that, I think it takes a lot more like energy, I guess, to spend time with people, because it does feel like an ‘event’ as opposed to just like a chill run-in, whatever those looked like before.”
— Soroa, 21, Portland
“[We are] literally only getting together with people for big milestones. Outdoors. For 30 minutes. Double-masked wherever I go. Haven’t traveled anywhere or gone in a store other than one single café once a week.
“I am more careful with friends because I am less confident in their protocols for social distancing. For my family, I know they are more careful. But we still don’t hang out inside at all.”
— Ben, 25, Bellingham
“I have tried my best to socially distance since last March, and I continue to respect other people’s boundaries as much as possible. Since I’ve had COVID-19, however, I’ve felt much less fearful about actually getting it. On walks and hikes I generally keep my mask off. Otherwise, I keep out of public gatherings.
“I rarely distance from my family, considering we’ve all had it and both my parents have been vaccinated.
“It’s frustrating, but I understand that the most vulnerable populations should get [vaccinated] first. I do feel annoyed at the vaccine rollout, however. I’ve read dozens of articles about vaccines being thrown out because eligible people refuse them, which makes me think there should be some kind of ‘first-come, first-served’ secondary list that I can apply for.”
— Kenneth, Bellingham
“I think the difference for me between my behavior with friends or family and in public is that with friends I’m trying to realistically assess the risks of transmission and am willing to, for example, not wear a mask if we’re sitting outside. With the general public, though, I’m trying to present an image of total caution even if I feel like it’s not strictly necessary. That includes masking up even when outside and not close to other people. It’s sometimes more of a social signal than a realistic risk assessment.”
— Tom, 29, Bellingham
“I always wear a mask and distance regardless of who I am with. However, if I will be indoors for longer periods of time or in more crowded areas, I will wear a KN95 rather than my more comfortable cloth masks that I wear while outdoors or with low-risk friends and family.
— Jack, 25, Bellingham
“Throughout the pandemic I have practiced social distancing among all family and friends. I continue to always wear a mask for all distanced social outings. I also try to avoid spending long periods of time in public indoor settings.”
— Hannah, 21, Bellingham
“I always wear two masks in public, even when I’m walking down the street and no one else is around, it just makes me feel safer. I have my friends who I choose to see during this, and around them I don’t wear a mask. That’s perhaps the riskiest thing I do. There’s a certain level of trust in it. Around my family when I visit them, I don’t wear a mask — again something else that is risky, but I try to get tested before I go back home.”
— Peter, 20, Bellingham
“I would say, yes, my interactions with friends are different than when I am around people in public, mainly because of communication. With the few friends I see, we tell each other who we have seen or where we have been so we can keep ourselves and each other safe. Then we decide if we feel it’s safe enough to see each other indoors or outdoors, with or without masks. With strangers in public, you have no idea about who they may have come in contact with, so I wear a mask and try my best to social distance whenever I am in public.”
— Kay, 21, Bellingham