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How To Plague: Advice On Laid-Off Friends, Gift Cards, And Disinfectant Wipes

Today: How to let your friends without jobs know you want to give them money, as well as questions about redeeming gift cards and antiseptic wipes.

Posted on April 4, 2020, at 1:43 p.m. ET

Abbey Lossing for BuzzFeed News

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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. The coronavirus pandemic is changing rapidly, with new information coming out seemingly by the hour. 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.

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


I'd like to see if you have any ideas on how to support friends who are recently furloughed, laid off, or had their pay cut due to the pandemic. They're fine with groceries and savings for now, and I'd like to show I'm here for them without giving money outright, as it may offend.

—Amanda E., Texas

They’re very lucky that they’re financially OK for now. But don’t take it for granted that they will continue to be — who knows when they’ll be able to get back to work? It may take longer than their emergency savings can help them. Let them know immediately that you would love to help them out with money (if you are, in fact, able to help) down the road if they want it. Yes, it's awkward to discuss — but by being the one to bring it up first, you’re making it easier for them to ask if they need to later on.

In the short term, the best way to support them is to try to be as present as possible (considering you can’t actually, you know, VISIT them). Normally, the silver lining to being laid off is having free time to enjoy, which is much harder during social distancing. Staying inside all day and not seeing friends or doing outdoor activities would normally be a warning sign your friend is depressed — but now it’s mandatory. A layoff isn’t just a loss of a job; it’s emotionally difficult, and going through it while being isolated has to be really hard.

Check in on them frequently. Not just “hey, how are you doing,” which can feel like an exhausting question. Make a point to call, text, Zoom, or whatever regularly to shoot the shit not about their employment situation. Plan to binge-watch the same Netflix series at the same time and talk about it.

Send them something entertaining as a gift — books, puzzles, magazines, Netflix recommendations, a Nintendo Switch, cookbooks. Send booze, weed (maybe drop it off?), a comfy robe, a box of sheet masks, nail polish, or something fun for them to enjoy right now.

But most importantly, just keep calling/texting/Zooming. The worst thing you can do is to show an outpouring of sympathy for them today and then disappear two months, three months, who knows how many months down the road.

Is redeeming gift cards at restaurants or drink shops rude right now? I have some I'd love to use, but want to support restaurants and not take food or drinks from them without adding to them financially.
—Kate, Los Angeles

There are two answers: one for a local restaurant and one for a national chain.

For a local restaurant, if you can, wait to redeem the gift cards. If anything, you should be buying gift cards. If it’s a place you love and you really want to eat its food right now, here’s an idea: Redeem your gift card now, but also buy a new gift card — or two — for a friend. Keep in mind, as Eater pointed out, this is essentially a microloan for the restaurant owner and doesn’t directly help the staff — bigger efforts in the form of rent forgiveness or a government bailout are needed to save the industry.

For a national chain like, say, Olive Garden or TGI Friday’s, you can redeem a gift card now with less guilt. These big chains have cash reserves to weather out a bad month, but the staff needs the orders coming in to keep their hours. By placing orders, you’re helping the workers keep their jobs — regardless of whether that order gets added to the April books or was paid for long ago.

All the stores have been sold out of Lysol wipes for weeks, and we've had to hoard our dwindling supply. My question is: How many surfaces can I use a single wipe on before I see diminishing returns? When I do our daily house-wide light switch/fridge door/sink handle wipes, I've been trying to keep it all to one cloth. Am I getting diminishing returns at a certain point, or does the wipe kill any COVID-19 it touches as long as it's still wet?

—Allie, Florida

Here’s something I didn’t know: to be effective at killing germs and the coronavirus, a Lysol wipe should make a surface stay wet for four whole minutes. That’s way wetter than I had assumed. (I’ve definitely been cleaning wrong.)

As long as the wipe has enough juice left to make a surface stay wet for that long, you’re good. If it’s just slightly damp and the wetness is evaporating after a few seconds, it’s not doing its job. So count the wipe not by the number of surfaces it’s cleaned but by its overall dampness.


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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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