Tips to Live By

It's Okay to Say "No" to Social Gatherings During COVID-19 — Here's How to Do It Politely

July 16, 2020 - Katie McCallum

When someone asks you to hang out in person during a pandemic, it's not it's an easy "yes" — but, it's also not an easy "no."

On the one hand, you probably have at least one family member, friend or a friend-of-a-friend who's had COVID-19. And, depending on where you live, COVID-19 cases may actually be back on the rise. So, logistically speaking, you know that attending a social gathering isn't the best idea.

On the other hand, we're all eager to see out family and friends again. Plus, it's not like your reason for saying no is as simple as it was back in the old days.

Here's what to consider when a friend or loved one asks you to hang out in person, why it's okay to say "no" and tips for doing so confidently and politely.

Do you know the risks — as well as your comfort level with them?

Adjusting to life during COVID-19 can take a toll on your mental health — there are so many things out of your control. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but one thing you can control is how many risks you're taking during this pandemic — even if those risks may be beneficial to your emotional well being.

While it's possible to plan an in-person hangout that's somewhat safe, it's inconvenient. Spending more than 15 minutes within 6 feet of another person increases your risk of catching and spreading COVID-19 — especially if that person is being less cautious than you are.

The decision to attend a social gathering is a highly personalized one and depends on whether or not you:

  • Are high risk for a more serious case of COVID-19
  • Live with or care for someone who's high risk
  • Interact with people as part of your job, such as in a clinic, grocery store or restaurant
  • Are generally comfortable with taking the risk
  • Live with someone who is also comfortable with you taking the risk


Considering and determining your comfort level ahead of time, as well as your household's comfort level, can help you confidently decline or accept an invitation to hang out. It can also help limit the anxiety and stress you may feel if your answer is '"no."

Are you only saying "yes" to please the other person?

You've spent your whole life perfecting your, "No, but thank you for the invite," response — in which you politely explain how you already have plans but would love to set something up in the near future. Even then, you may still feel a little guilty for declining the invite.

When it's a pandemic and you don't have other plans or know when that near future may be, saying "no" can come with an added layer of stress and guilt.

Will the person question your dedication to the friendship? Will the person's feelings be hurt? Will the person think you're being judgemental? Do you even need to mention that COVID-19 is the reason you're declining the invite?

No matter how someone may — or may not — react to your response, what you shouldn't do is agree to something you're uncomfortable with just to make the other person happy. The right decision is the one that's best for both your physical and mental health.

Plus, any stress that may come along after that uncomfortable "no" is still way less stress than what you'd feel before, during and after attending a gathering that you didn't feel was actually safe.

How to politely say "no" to a social gathering during a pandemic

No one likes to say "no" — and some of us dislike it way more than others. To take some of the stress out of declining a social gathering you don't feel is safe during COVID-19, follow these 4 steps:

1. Be positive. Declining an invite doesn't have to be negative. Start your response off on a positive note: "It's great to hear from you!" And end on one, too: "I definitely miss hanging out with you!" Not an exclamation mark guy or gal? There are always emojis :)

2. Make your response short and sweet. Since you already know what you're comfortable with and why, crafting a concise and polite response should be as easy as: "While I'd love to see you, I'm avoiding in-person gatherings due to COVID-19 right now." You may feel like you need to give the person your detailed reasoning as to why you're saying no, but people know the drill with COVID-19 by now — we all know some people are high risk, and we also all know others are just generally more risk-averse.

3. Keep your response honest. While it may be tempting to limit the awkwardness by making up fake plans, it could just land you in a "fake plan spiral" — in which the person offers an alternative date or time and you have to think of more and more excuses. In fact, it may even make you feel like you eventually have to say "yes" to something you're uncomfortable with simply to cover your dishonesty. Plus, at the risk of sounding like a Pinterest quote board, the foundation of a healthy friendship is honesty.

4. Suggest an alternative way to hang out. If you do want to reconnect with the person, declining the invitation doesn't have to mean declining to hang out completely. Phone calls, video chats and playing video games online together will never make up for reconnecting in person, but it's certainly better than nothing.


When you put these tips together, politely and confidently declining a social invitation may look like this:

"It's great to hear from you! I miss seeing you, but I'm avoiding in-person gatherings due to COVID-19 right now. How about we plan a virtual hangout soon? I definitely miss hanging out with you!"

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Categories: Tips to Live By