Social Distancing Is Hard When You Live With Roommates

No one answers a Craigslist ad for housemates expecting to end up quarantined with those people.

Somewhere between two weeks and 1 million years ago, when it first became clear that the coronavirus pandemic would require a significant lifestyle change, the inhabitants of my four-person Washington, D.C., apartment convened a meeting. We would try to wash our hands more, we agreed, and make ample use of our nice-smelling disinfectant spray. But beyond that, we struggled to reach a consensus on how our household would stay safe. Two of us don’t own desks, and there isn’t enough space to work together at the dining-room table. Three of us wanted to take the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines very seriously and begin social distancing right away. The other one didn’t. “I’m still going out this weekend,” this roommate insisted. “I’m not going to stop living!”


How is this going to work? I thought, feeling a combined pang of frustration and dread. Living with roommates and navigating their schedules, personalities, and relationships is hard enough at the best of times. Living with roommates in the middle of a pandemic threatens to be excruciating: What people are being asked to do now—avoid others, keep things extremely clean, isolate if you’re sick—is a serious challenge when you live in a house teeming with people, without familial bonds to make the household feel like a united front. Now, as D.C. and other cities across America have instructed their citizens to stay home as much as possible, roommates nationwide are asking the same question I am: How, exactly, are we supposed to manage this?