As the pandemic marks its first birthday, most of us have become familiar with the term “COVID bubble,” or on campus as we call it, the “Bomber bubble.” Once we understand it, the bubble concept can serve as a useful tool for navigating our social lives during this challenging time. It allows us to meet our vital need for human connection while also preventing the spread of COVID-19 among our loved ones and friends, on our campus, and in our communities.
Also known as a “social pod” or “quaran-team,” a COVID bubble is a limited group of social contacts that we maintain with the intention of keeping everyone as safe as possible from COVID-19 infection and illness. Besides wearing face masks, physical distancing, and handwashing; limiting our social contacts is the most effective way to avoid isolation/quarantine and to reduce COVID-19 spread. It’s important that we know how to define and manage our COVID bubble in order to make this work.
So, who’s a good fit for a COVID bubble? Actually, each of us has two types of bubbles.
- The smallest, and safest, type is our “household bubble” that consists of the individual(s) who we live with, whether that be in a residence hall room, apartment, or house. For some, a household bubble may include a few other close relationships. When we are inside our household bubble, this is where we can safely be mask-free and physically close to each other.
- The second type is our “social bubble,” which consists of other people who we want to hang out with. Our social bubble can be the most complicated to define and navigate. Realistically, each person in that bubble has other social contacts, which multiplies the number of people that we’re exposed to, increasing our risk for COVID-19. That’s why mask-wearing and physical distancing are still important whenever we’re socializing outside of our household. Ideally, a social bubble should be limited to fewer than 10 people. On campus, a social bubble of six can safely fit in most lounges and other inside spaces.
Within both types of COVID bubbles, it’s important to communicate about expectations for socializing. Have the “COVID convo” and decide what ground rules members of your bubble can agree on to keep everyone safe. Address questions like:
- Are guests allowed to visit in our space, and under what conditions for mask wearing and physical distancing?
- Is meeting people outdoors okay while maintaining a 6-foot distance, if they aren’t in our bubble?
- Are we all abiding by testing requirements and travel restrictions? If travel is essential, how will we manage self-quarantine when we return to the bubble?
Holding these conversations regularly can help ensure that everyone in our bubble stays on the same page and is reminded about our agreements.
Spring fever is upon us and as the long-awaited warm weather approaches, we’ll be spending more time outdoors. Socializing outdoors is in itself a lower-risk practice for COVID-19. New York State recently increased the limits for outdoor gatherings at personal residences to 25 individuals provided physical distancing can be maintained, which makes it tempting to host and attend events with lots of people who are not in our bubble. Depending on the size of our outdoor space, 25 guests may or may not fit when allowing for adequate physical distancing.
Important things to consider are:
- Can guests maintain 6 feet of distancing even when they’re passing by each other?
- If guests are drinking alcohol, their well-intentioned resolve to stay physically distanced might be weakened.
- Eating and drinking reduces the time people spend masked up, so who will monitor behavior? Nobody wants their party to be remembered as a super spreader event.
There’s hope on the horizon, as wide-scale vaccinations may eventually allow us to party like the old days. Until then, more intimate outdoor gatherings of our household or social bubble make more sense. With thoughtful planning and regular, open communication, the COVID Bubble concept can help all of us stay healthy and socially connected this spring.
Program Director, Center for Health Promotion