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9 Etiquette Rules You Still Have to Follow During Coronavirus

Sure, all sorts of things are canceled right now. But you know what's not canceled? Common human decency, and these basic etiquette rules that bolster it. The specific circumstances may have changed, but the basic concepts have not.

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Rules to live by

COVID-19 has caused many aspects of our daily lives to change drastically, including plenty of traditional etiquette rules. For instance, you’re well within your rights (and in fact encouraged!) to forego a handshake. But for all of the etiquette rules you can ignore right now, there are plenty of other rules, behaviors, and just general kindnesses that haven’t lost its relevance, even during this crazy time. In fact, some of them are even more important than ever!

Young man as a courier delivering foodPhynart Studio/Getty Images


Here’s a practice that’s gone from casually generous to downright crucial. With many people opting for grocery or meal delivery, drivers and delivery personnel are still working, fulfilling an essential service. “If a service is offered, even during hard times, it still requires a level of generosity from the patron,” says etiquette expert Lisa Grotts. They’re continuing to work in uncertain, risky circumstances and relying on tips more than ever, so if you can afford it, of course, it’s good form to leave them some money.

Of course, handing physical cash to someone is one of the normally good habits that can backfire right now, but services like DoorDash and Grubhub allow you to add a tip to your total charge. That way, you can be both courteous and safe. Or, as with a lot of things right now, tipping is moving online right now with virtual tip jars so that people who have some cash to spare can help laid-off service workers. Plus, learn whether you should be disinfecting your groceries and how to be safe when ordering from restaurants.

Male friends talking while sitting in living roomKlaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Listening and empathy

It’s something of a cliché that you learn from a very early age: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. People are going through unbelievable hardships right now, and everyone’s struggle is different. With the widespread isolation, it can be all too easy to get wrapped up in your own personal situation. “Our mindset should be ‘we’ vs. ‘me’ until we flatten this curve,” Grotts says. So many motivational and charitable campaigns are stressing the importance of (metaphorical) “togetherness,” and that means it’s crucial to acknowledge what others are going through and the way this pandemic is affecting people in different ways. Before you dismiss someone else’s story and/or struggle, take the time to listen; people are feeling an intense range of emotions right now and it’s important to keep in mind that those feelings are valid. And that includes yours—here’s how one therapist is taking care of her mental health during this time.

Proper trash disposal

Sadly, many people have noticed gloves, masks, and other items that are more prevalent right now strewn on the ground. And they’ve taken the opportunity to remind others that this pandemic is not an excuse to litter or otherwise ignore proper trash disposal etiquette. It seems like it should go without saying, but don’t throw gloves, wipes, masks, or, well, any other trash on the ground outside or in a public place. In addition to being bad for the environment, this is also seriously unhygienic. Some people have even noticed used masks and gloves being left in grocery carts, a serious breach of general etiquette that could spread the virus further.

Respect personal space

It can certainly seem like all notions of personal space have gone out the window. On the one hand, it’s imperative to stay far away from most other people; on the other, you’re likely spending a whole lot of time in close proximity to the people you’re quarantined with, if any. And while that’s understandable considering how little human contact we have right now, make sure you’re respecting even those people’s needs for personal space. In a situation that (understandably!) feels incredibly confining, it’s important to understand that space and alone time are valuable. For more on that, here’s our take on personal space: How close is too close? Plus, learn how to self-isolate if you live with your family.

Woman using laptop on couch at homeWestend61/Getty Images

Respect people’s time

Social engagements are another thing that’s totally changed. But what hasn’t changed is the basic courtesy of respecting people’s time. Just like you should show up for a 7:00 dinner at 7:00 (or let your dinner guest know, and apologize, if you’ll be late or won’t make it), you should join a 7:00 Zoom call at 7:00. (Barring any technological issues, of course. We know it can be challenging.) Of course, it’s acceptable to rescind an RSVP, cancel plans, or miss even a virtual social engagement for a valid reason. But keep people updated just as you would in normal times. The bottom line is that just because you’re not seeing someone in person doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be courteous about wasting their time. And keep this working from home etiquette in mind during this new normal as well.

Man in self isolation in bed with the fluJustin Paget/Getty Images

Don’t judge people’s appearances

Of course, there are plenty of jokes going around about people foregoing their common beauty regimens during this time. Quarantined people are poking fun at “work-from-home” fashions. And that’s all in good fun because it points out the ways we’re all in the same boat, but outright making fun of someone’s appearance still isn’t cool! “Our new world looks different, but that doesn’t mean we need to comment on how people look,” Grotts says. “Between face masks of all shapes and sizes, rubber gloves, and other PPE’s [personal protective equipment], we need to accept this transition.”

Smiling senior man on cell phone at homeWestend61/Getty Images

Check up on people

When social engagements were viable, we probably took for granted regular interactions with certain people. Now, after a month of quarantine, we might not have had any interaction with some of those people. This lack of interaction is superseding a lot of our regular opportunities to check in on people in our lives—and, unfortunately, it’s upping the need for such checking in. So, when you can, try to make an effort to reach out to people in your life. You never know who might really need it, and we likely all need it to some degree. And, of course, check up on yourself too; self-care is hugely important right now. In fact, here are 27 things you should be doing for yourself during quarantine.

COVID-19, stay homeSisoje/Getty Images

Take responsibility

Brady Sluder, the spring breaker whose claim that he wasn’t going to let coronavirus stop him from partying went viral, issued a public apology. That’s an extreme example, but many of us have likely made some kind of less-than-wise decision during this time, like going out at the beginning when social distancing was still new or going out without a mask even after the guidelines to wear them took effect. And, just like at any other time, if we make a mistake or ignore our better judgment, we should own up to it. No one’s perfect and it’s always important to acknowledge and apologize when you’ve done something wrong.

Small FamilyGravity Images/Getty Images

Be kind

Most of these rules just boil down to the simple concept of kindness and respect for others. And while, of course, this etiquette rule still applies, it seems to be taking on additional meaning right now. It’s always important to be kind to, and not look down on, people in the service industry or blue-collar careers. But now, those people are keeping our food stocked, keeping our transportation running, and helping to maintain what little sense of normalcy we have, and the least we can do for them is treat them with respect—and, right now, stay home as much as we can to keep them safe. Next, find out the everyday habits that could change forever due to coronavirus.

Take a look at our Coronavirus Guide to discover more ways to stay sane, keep your family safe, and make the most of together time.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.

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