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What’s your COVID number? A simple way to keep everyone safe and comfortable

07 July 2020 - Dr. Sarah Barker

As restrictions ease and tighten due to COVID, many of us are needing to navigate different social expectations between ourselves and others when we spend time together. This can be challenging and also potentially awkward when these differ.

A friend mentioned a really great way for managing this which I have been using and sharing with others. As people are going to have different comfort levels when it comes to spending time together, she told me about sharing her COVID social comfort level with others via a number and asking them for theirs before spending time together. This then creates an understanding of how to be respectful of each other, ironing out awkward, unintended faux pas (like an unexpected enthusiastic hug and kiss to, or from, someone!).

Essentially, in practice this involves me letting the person I am planning to spend time with (socially or at work) know that I would like to know their comfort level during COVID with face-to-face social interaction on a scale of 0 to 4. I explain that:


‘0’ - extremely uncomfortable

‘1’ - slightly comfortable

‘2’ - somewhat comfortable

‘3’ - very comfortable

‘4’ - extremely comfortable

I explain that these numbers may vary over time and that they can also vary depending on who we spend time with. For example, around people who have compromised immunity or who are part of another higher risk group for COVID, I am extremely cautious as I don’t want to make them unwell, so my comfort level is lower and I take extra precautions.

We exchange our ‘COVID numbers’ and then this allows us to discuss the practical implications of greetings that are comfortable for both people (are they happy to ‘elbow touch’ or ‘foot touch’ to say hello or are they okay with a hug with faces far apart?); physical distancing (is 1.5 metres comfortable for both or would someone prefer it to be a greater distance); how eating occurs (are chips and nuts put in separate bowls for each person? Do we ensure everyone has their own meal on their own plate?); and things like whether they like to wear a mask or not and whether they would like me to as well.

So for example, I walk with my friends each Sunday morning and knowing their number was  important for greetings. Some of us ‘elbow greet’ each other and others give a brief hug with their heads away to those who are comfortable and everyone’s needs are respected. When I am about to spend time with my mum who is usually a hugger and kisser, I will often say ‘I look forward to elbow greeting you mum’ to remind her when she’s about to come over that for now, that’s what I’m comfortable doing with her.

What is your COVID number at the moment?

Would a COVID number be helpful to you in conversing about navigating how to behave in different social relationships you spend time in?

What tips do you have for preparing yourself and others for spending time together during COVID so that everyone is comfortable and their needs are respected?


Dr. Sarah Barker
Dr. Sarah Barker

Dr Sarah Barker directs Enrich Health and Psychology and is a bilingual Senior Clinical Psychologist; Training Facilitator and Counselling Service Manager. She has15+ years’ experience in the public health, NGO and private sector in enriching wellbeing in people and organisations with diverse needs, applying evidence-based psychological science. Sarah seeks to understand people’s and organisations’ experiences to gain insight into behaviour, teaming with them to create changes they seek.

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