VANCOUVER -- It’s a question that made her chuckle and stammer, but B.C.’s top doctor did offer advice Tuesday for singletons thinking about wading into the dating pool as physical distancing restrictions are relaxed.

CTV News asked Dr. Bonnie Henry about the risks of COVID-19 transmission through kissing and sex, as well as whether there would be public health messaging around new physical relationships as the province enters Phase 2 of its pandemic response.

“If you are going to start a relationship with somebody, this is not the time to do rapid, serial dating, OK?” said Henry. “Pick somebody, see if it works, and then take your time.”

University of Victoria behavioural epidemiologist Dr. Kiffer Card said he expects many people are ready to re-connect after weeks of self-isolation — at both a social and physical level.

“One question is whether (the risk of possible exposure to COVID-19) is outweighed by some of the benefits that dating has on mental health, emotional health and social health,” said Card. “One of the the challenges for the government is to figure out how to message this…From a network epidemiology way of thinking about it, creating a less dense social and sexual network will reduce transmission.”

He added that cyber or solo sex are the safest options.

“It’s an incredibly challenging time for all of us and when we don’t have ready-made people within our bubble it can be more lonely,” said Henry. “I think many people have adapted to online (dating) and talking online and to having encounters online that can be…quite…helpful in that regard.”

British Columbia hasn’t provided any guidance about how to handle sex and sexuality at this time, except for a short written piece on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website. The City of Toronto has published easy-to-follow infographics warning that kissing poses the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission, urging virtual sex and sexting as substitutes for the real thing: “You are your safest partner — masturbation will not spread COVID-19!”

The cardinal rule: no canoodling with anyone if you’re feeling sick.

Dating on hold for many as uncertainty continues

Some aren’t even considering sex with anyone new during the pandemic, and that position is bolstered by dating and relationship expert Kim Sarasin, who advises against any in-person encounters at all. She advocates Zoom or video dates, and leaving it at that.

“I definitely don’t recommend any sexual activity until we are really fully in the clear and I can’t stress that enough — as tempting as that might be, and you might feel a real chemistry and attraction,” she insisted.

Sarasin also revealed that she’s heard from several woman who’ve been “dumped” by dates on Zoom a moment after joining the conversation. She says social niceties should always be followed, but also suggested virtual daters consider the first impression they’re making, ensure there’s ample light on their face (ideally facing a window, not with their back to it), and that COVID-19 can be the ultimate icebreaker as daters discuss their experiences

“As eager as they are to meet people, safety is of paramount importance,” she said. “Zoom dates can be just as effective or sometimes better to be meeting somebody through video.”

She says more traditional, longer courtships can often lead to the kind of relationships many people are looking for and don’t often find in the fast-paced modern dating scene. More importantly, she says anyone not in a hurry to jump into the fray again should take this as an opportunity to work on themselves.

Lovers in a dangerous time

For those who do feel comfortable easing their way back into face-to-face encounters with a new beau, experts recommend taking things slowly.

“It doesn’t mean we have to be puritanical and saying, ‘You need to date for a year before you go on your first date,’ or something. I think finding the right balance is really important right now and something hopefully we can do,” said Card, adding that singletons may find ways to vet new partners and see if their attitudes toward COVID-19 safety are compatible.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that starts to occur naturally in the way we script and talk to each other and the way people screen for partners, which won’t require any public health messaging. That will really happen on its own.”

Henry reiterated the idea that each person’s social and physical bubbles overlap, and people have to be comfortable with that when inviting someone new into their orbit.

“We talk about the contacts and the fact the people I have contact with, it means that I’m contacting their contacts, too. So if they’re someone who’s been with a whole bunch of other people, then my risk would go up that they might be infected with this and we know people can transmit it early on in their illness when they’re not realizing they’re sick themselves,” she said.

“I think we all need to take a little bit of responsibility right now coming into the next few weeks, particularly.”