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How To Plague: Our Advice Column On Work, Playdates, And Hand Jobs In The Age Of The Coronavirus

We're trying our best to answer your ethical and social dilemmas about how to live responsibly through this pandemic.

Posted on March 18, 2020, at 4:35 p.m. ET

Abbey Lossing for BuzzFeed News

Hi, I’m Katie Notopoulos, a tech reporter here at BuzzFeed News, and I have no actual expertise in epidemiology, but I sure do enjoy telling people how to live their lives. Which means I’m the perfect person to tell you How to Plague. This is BuzzFeed News' advice column for these incredibly confusing times, in which I’ll try to help with your queries about social distancing etiquette and ethical dilemmas large and small, and call up some actual experts to weigh in when needed.

The coronavirus pandemic is changing rapidly, with new information coming out seemingly by the hour. Just a few days ago “should I cancel my vacation” seemed like a reasonable question (ha ha, remember last week? We were all so young then).

Send me your questions at katie@buzzfeed.com, or sign up for our text messaging service to send me questions that way.


Our company is now officially working from home. However, in my department, they are going to require a few of us to get together for a meeting somewhere offsite tomorrow. Do I just go? Do I protest? I’m not sick, but we know people who are asymptomatic can spread this disease. I know some people have no choice for work, so do I just suck it up and submit to this?

Your boss is 100% wrong. You should not be getting together to work offsite if you have the ability to work remotely. The issue, of course, is how to protest without seeming like a shitty employee who just wants to goof off all day in pajamas.

My advice is to leverage a time-tested tactic for establishing workers’ rights: strength in numbers. Start by discreetly asking your other team members how they’re feeling about your boss’s plan. You’ll probably find that a lot of your colleagues feel the same: They are worried about it but don’t want to be the only one to complain.

Use this leverage to tell your boss as a group that you don’t feel comfortable.

Maybe your boss is a coldhearted jerk, but I’ll hold out hope that they’re just unaware of the risks of gathering at this point in time. The situation is changing really fast. I mean, Jared Leto just found out about this whole thing on Monday! Send your boss an email with links to news articles like this and this to help make your point, and say that the team has raised concerns about their own health and that of their families.

Your case will be a lot stronger, though, if instead of just saying no, you offer some viable alternatives. How about a Zoom video chat meeting, or even something like a team-building exercise where everyone video chats during their lunchtime? Hey, if we’re all living in a dystopian timeline, might as well go for it with a whimsical background on Zoom.


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Can my kids have a playdate with the other kids in my apartment building/next door who are also all staying home?

There are some families who may not have options if both parents have to go to work. But for everyone else, I’m afraid the answer is no. The safest thing to do is to keep your kids home and away from other people, even if it really, really sucks.

In the best-case scenario, your family and your next-door neighbor family are both healthy, have not been exposed, are not interacting with anyone else, and you can treat yourselves as one big huge family unit.

The problem is that unless you’ve all already been isolating for the last two weeks, any one of you could already be infected but not yet showing it. And then both families would be at risk. Even if you have self-quarantined for two weeks, can you really be sure they didn’t bend the rules even once? Are there circumstances under which you might feel justified bending the rules? Would you want them to know? What if you do a playdate now and tomorrow you start showing symptoms?

Lay off the playdates for now and see how it goes for a few days.


Okay, this is super gross and I'm sorry in advance, but does relegating it to a hand job count as social distancing?

Obviously, if you’re making physical contact of any kind, you’re within the 6 feet of recommended distance. So, no, HJs are not social distancing. But how dangerous is it? In theory, hand jobs are safer than kissing or other mouth-related activities, because they don’t necessarily involve any “respiratory droplets” like a cough or sneeze would. (Though I don’t know what your thing is. Maybe it’s sneezing while furiously cranking the hog, in which case, definitely avoid.) The question is, then, if semen can carry the coronavirus.

So I put this extremely urgent question to Dr. Stanley Perlman, professor of microbiology, immunology, and pediatrics at the University of Iowa. “I have not heard of any sexual transmission, but infectious virus may be in the urine or feces,” he said. “I do not know how common it is. Washing hands should alleviate this risk, especially with this type of sex.”

Basically, don’t give out handies to strangers at the grocery store, but if it’s someone you’re already quarantining with, well, just wash your hands after. Which is probably good advice in any situation — even those situations that, for whatever reason, do not involve hand jobs.


Logo illustration by Alex Eben Meyer for BuzzFeed News.

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    Katie Notopoulos is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture and is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.

    Contact Katie Notopoulos at katie@buzzfeed.com.

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