Keeping Safe and Social in the Time of COVID
So – have you formed a COVID bubble yet? No? Don’t be so sure. I had one long before I’d even heard of them! A COVID “social bubble,” according to guidelines issued recently by Alameda County, CA, is “a stable group of not more than 12 individuals, who may attend outdoor social or other events together. A social bubble may be comprised of a combination of households, but no household or individual may participate in more than one social bubble [with certain exceptions].”
So when I have the occasional socially distanced visit with a friend who lives alone, outdoors, eight feet apart, we are in a social bubble. Who knew?
Social bubbles have been forming nationwide, both organically and more intentionally. Another local example is that of Jesse Moriarity and her neighbors, who gather outside to enjoy carry-in meals on Friday evenings.
“We have really great neighbors, and for some of us, we have only children,” said Moriarity. “This is torture for only children. Our son had no one to talk to but adults for three months. Zoom just isn’t his jam. So that’s how it started.”
The social bubble includes several immediate neighbors. “We knew we needed some ground rules for this,” she said. “We are not going into anybody’s house. We bring our own food.”
A scary experience early in the pandemic established trust in the neighborhood. One husband, just returned from the Bahamas, became “incredibly sick.” The wife “called all of us immediately because we had all been together the day before,” Moriarity said. “Because of that experience we all trust each other. They called us immediately. There was no judgement, just, ‘Is he okay? What can we do?’ We were all just together. We have a lot of trust among us that no one is going to hide [illness] or be embarrassed or worry about being judged.” Fortunately, the husband did not have COVID-19.
When forming a social bubble, “You’re asking a group of people to really, really trust each other, and I think that experience made it easier,” she said. “These families all trust each other and I think we’ve all been honest with each other about our risk factors. It’s been nice that we can talk about those things.”
The social bubble of four families includes one healthcare provider, and several people who work in offices, as well as one that has someone come into the home to provide childcare. Still, the participants feel that the rewards of socialization for both parents and children are worth the risk.
“There are six children, spread out in age from 5 to 12, and they are so sweet to each other! They are so happy to be together after months of playing alone in their yards,” Moriarity said.
The group has been meeting for about a month. “It’s been so nice,” she said. “I am definitely the extrovert in my family, and this is filling my cup back up. If we need to self-quarantine again in the fall, we certainly will, but for now I feel like my cup is filling up, which is wonderful. This is just what we needed, and summer in Maine is just lovely!”
Moriarity acknowledges that the group is taking a risk. “We have one other neighbor who stayed in quarantine because he wants to visit his father, who is really ill. He needs to stay secluded, so we keep our distance and just wave at him. But mental health is also really important and I think we’ve got to figure out how to take care of both. There’s so much out there on how to reopen a business, but nobody is talking about here’s how to reopen your lives. How do you spend time with people? I’m glad we figured it out.”
The health order issued by Alameda County in early June detailed formation of social bubbles, or childcare or youth activity units, allowing members of different households to socialize – carefully. Recommendations include:
- No person may be a member of more than one social bubble during any three week period, except that a child who resides in more than one dwelling unit as part of a shared custody arrangement may be part of the social bubble of each of the child’s parents or guardians.
- Members of a social bubble are strongly encouraged to comply with social distancing requirements and wear face coverings to the extent feasible (children 2 and under should not wear face coverings; under 12 should do so only with adult supervision).
- Members of a social bubble are not prohibited from engaging in essential travel, essential activities, outdoor activities or additional activities together.
And a recent healthline.com article also detailed what they deemed the “double bubble,” a concept being used in Canada and New Zealand, in which two households may interact, with safety restrictions. Households with a high-risk member should not consider such an arrangement, according to the experts cited. Choose people who add to your quality of life, and be careful not to get into a situation where you are choosing to socialize with one side of the family over the other. Social distancing and face covers should also be used among double bubble participants.
All that said, however, the Maine CDC has not taken a position on social bubbles. “Physical distancing, use of face coverings in public, and good personal hygiene, including frequent handwashing, remain the best ways for people to limit potential exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19,” said Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long.