Tips for socializing safely during COVID-19
In response to COVID-19, experts continue to recommend wearing a mask in public, frequently washing your hands and practicing physical distancing. But as much as we all want to do our part to limit the spread of the virus, the lack of human interaction that comes with distancing ourselves from others can take its toll. Though large group gatherings are still being discouraged, many are creating “quarantine bubbles” as a safe way to avoid isolation.
What is a “quarantine bubble”?
While many are continuing to physically distance themselves from others, some may feel it is the right time to begin interacting again. One alternative to continued social isolation is to engage a group of people – family, friends or co-workers – to create a small group that strictly socially interacts with one another. These groups are becoming known as “quarantine bubbles,” “social bubbles,” “COVID bubbles,” “quarantine pods” or “quaranteams”.
“There are many names for this trend,” said Catherine Langdon, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Mental Health Clinician at ThedaCare Behavioral Health in Menasha. “It is really creating a small group of people with whom to socialize regularly. This may be a good way to help those who need interaction with others. In fact, many people have been ‘bubbling’ already, they just didn’t call it that.”
Langdon gives an example in her own life, noting that she, her fiancé and his parents have been interacting for the past few months, while everyone limits their contact to the other people.
“For us, it was expanding our immediate family to include those who we want and need to see frequently,” she said. “We’ve all been working from home, so we agreed to limit our interactions and wear masks whenever we are in public, limiting our risk of exposing each other to the virus.”
How can you keep your “bubble” safe?
The limited interaction and precaution each person takes outside of the group are extremely important for a successful, safe and healthy “bubble,” explained Jennifer Frank, MD, Chief Medical Officer at ThedaCare. Wearing masks in public, practicing social distancing and frequent hand washing will continue to be the best ways to prevent spread of the virus.
“While states are now allowing businesses, restaurants, bars and shopping venues to open, that doesn’t mean the virus has disappeared,” she said. “It’s still very active in all of our communities. Re-opening society is a matter of balancing the country’s economic health with the physical, mental and emotional health of our citizens. People need to remain vigilant about practicing protective measures to keep the virus in check.”
Once a bubble is established, ongoing transparency and open communication is vital. If you choose to be part of a “bubble,” you should:
- Have a two-week trial period to make sure your “bubble” is the right fit
- Be honest about your activities
- Vocalize your comfort level with other group member’s activities
Members of a bubble must also be willing to assume that if one member gets COVID-19, it’s likely all members could be exposed.
“If someone in the bubble gets COVID-19, they should immediately remove themselves from the group and not rejoin until they’re clear of the virus,” said Dr. Frank. “Other members should then take necessary precautions to understand their risk. I also recommend they speak to their primary care provider to determine if testing is needed.”
What are the health benefits?
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) predicting the coronavirus will affect our lives for a significant, unknown length of time, it’s important that people find ways to meet their mental, emotional and physical health needs. Small social groups could give people a way to interact with a slightly larger group while still limiting their exposure to the virus.
“In this prolonged period of isolation, some people are struggling,” said Langdon. “Having a social bubble could be a way to take a measured risk and enjoy more social engagement. The goal of a bubble is that everyone would be able to interact with everyone else in the bubble the same as they do with those who live in their private households. That would include sharing meals, playing games and not physically distancing.”
Social bubbles might be especially helpful for children who may be missing playing with other children. Two families forming a bubble could be a way to provide more social activity for everyone.
“We’re going on multiple months of stress, change and restrictions,” she said. “Chronic stress really has an impact on our immune systems and that impacts our physical, mental and emotional health. This is an important time to practice good self-care, making sure that you recognize what you need and how you’re coping with things. If you need help or additional support, whether that’s counseling, or talking with friends/family, engaging in social media activities, getting better physical exercise or eating healthier – those are all things that add up to maintaining our overall wellbeing.”