Love in the Time of COVID

As Valentine's Day comes around, couples are forced to find safe ways to celebrate.

Last year for Valentine’s Day, Merill Delos Santos,19, set up dinner by the beach for his girlfriend Naomi Balka, 18. A trail of rose petals led to the table where a home-cooked meal surrounded by flickering candles lay.

This year, he wants to take her out to dinner. The problem? How to do it safely.

Valentine’s Day is perhaps the biggest date night all year. Restaurants are packed with star-crossed lovers, mooning over each other across linen-covered tables, passing roses and kisses as they enjoy an evening celebrating romance. But with a pandemic raging, couples are forced to find safe ways to spend the day together, affordable dates as many have lost their jobs to covid, and getting creative with limited ideas.

Delos Santos and his girlfriend have been dating for about three years. Because both of them have had COVID, the couple has no worries about spending Valentine’s together. Planning a special day full of their favorite activities, Delos Santos wants to step up his plans from last year.

“After a hard year, I want to make the day super special,” said Delos Santos. “ I planned a road trip to Naples where we could go to her favorite restaurant and watch the sunset.”

For some couples spending this Valentine’s day together could be life-threatening.  

Johnathan Bartos, 26, spent some of his residency in the COVID unit at Larkin Community Hospital. As such, he is constantly exposed to COVID. In order to protect his wife, who has not yet had the virus, he’s had to make huge adjustments to his everyday life.

“Every day, I come home from work I head straight to the guest room to shower, I throw my scrubs in a laundry bag to be disinfected,” he said.

The couple even sleeps in different rooms after he has worked in the COVID unit until it is safe to go back to normal. 

Early in the pandemic, Bartos caught the virus. Luckily, he wasn’t hospitalized,but he was really weak and drowsy. Being quarantined for two weeks, he tested negative allowing him to go back to work and spending time with his wife

“It’s been almost a year since I tested positive for COVID, so I’m not sure whether I’m immune or whether I can catch it again,” said Bartos.

This year, the couple is forced to spend their Valentine’s day under the same roof, but from a distance.

“We have the worst luck, I’ve recently been exposed to COVID,” said Bartos. “Meaning for Valentine’s Day I can’t spend it with my wife.

Bartos, being a romantic at heart, plans to make the day special for his wife, even though their Valentine’s Day is ruined, the couple hopes to make the most of it. His wife, Chelsea Bartos, loves Valentine’s day and is one of her favorite holidays.

“I planned a dinner under the stars in our backyard, and we’ll sit at opposite ends of the table to enforce the six feet apart rule,” he said. “I also bought her some jewelry that she really wanted to show some appreciation.”

Newlyweds Estera and Remus Todean are also spending a romantic evening at home, making a homemade pasta dish they saw on social media, called Baked Feta Pasta. 

“We thought it would be fun to make it together and bake a cake,” said Todean. “We also thought it would be fun to watch the movie that we watched on our first date.”

Not only is it their first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, but it’s also their first Valentine’s Day they have spent together ever. Dating from different countries changes the number of holidays spent together. From Florida to Romania, the couple was forced to hang out once a year. 

 The couple resides in Dej, Romania, and were married last August in a tiny church. Her previous venue booked, was forced to cancel leaving her with nowhere to do her wedding. With time ticking, she was forced to pick the only available place. Having to change her wedding date, and make whole new invitations, her dream wedding was canceled. After hours of convincing, she was able to keep her hair and makeup stylists as well as the catering company. 

“When I heard Romania was on a strict lockdown, all my hard work and money went to waste,” she said.

Originally planning a big wedding, she had to make some adjustments by inviting a handful of 60 people, only close family, and friends. Her family is from Florida weren’t able to travel to Romania for her big day, only her parents. Although important to her to have her family there she had no other options

Although her dream wedding was canceled and Romania continues under lockdown, she’s not going to let that ruin the couple’s very first Valentine’s Day. 

“It’s our first ever Valentine’s day together, and even though we’re super limited we’re still hoping that it’s as special as we plan it to be,” she said.

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