Let’s face it, we’ve been in isolation — to varying degrees — for almost a year, and no one can keep this pace without any in-person social interaction. COVID fatigue is real, and it can harm our mental health to be alone all the time, no matter how many Zoom meetings we have.
Since the start of the pandemic, experts have suggested forming “social bubbles,” also called “pods” or, more playfully, “quaranteams” — the idea being that you and a select group of friends/family/romantic partners decide on set rules for safety and social distancing in your daily lives, then treat each other as “safe,” meaning you can unmask around each other, show physical affection, and do away with social distancing in each other’s company.
Last year, PBS interviewed Gideon Lichfield, MIT Technology Review’s editor in chief, about quaranteams after he set one up. He had some words of caution that still resonate for those working to create their own pods: “Keep in mind that if you decide to share your life with other people, you are adding risk to yourself and to them and also potentially to the rest of society, because you could, if you catch the disease, you could then transmit it to other people. So don’t go into it without really thinking about that risk … and making sure that you’re doing it with people that you really trust.”
As the world carries on with its business in advance of widespread vaccine distribution, and as we continue to observe social distancing requirements, here’s how to start a safe and sustainable quaranteam of your own until we develop that long-sought herd immunity:
1. Choose your pod: Select a group of close friends and/or family members who you want to include. While there’s no limit to how large a quaranteam can be, experts tend to recommend keeping it small — the fewer the people, the lower the risk.
2. Communicate expectations: Talk about the precautions you already take, for instance: When and where do you wear masks? Are you going out to eat, and if so are you eating indoors? Once you know what you’re all already doing, you can create ground rules. Ensure you’re all taking the same stringent precautions.
3. Quarantine: This may sound counter-intuitive, but you should take two weeks practicing your pod’s rules and not seeing each other in person to make sure none of you are contagious when you do start hanging out. If you plan to fold someone else into the team later on, you’ll want to ask that they quarantine for two weeks, too.
4. Keep communicating: Check in with each other often to ensure you’re still meeting the same quarantine rules you laid down in the beginning. If you have to go to the doctor or the hospital, tell your team. If you go anywhere out of the ordinary, tell your team. You can decide as a group whether you’re comfortable interacting with each other after any outside or risky contact.
5. Enjoy:You can do away with some precautions in your quaranteam, and hopefully this will ease some of the burden of isolation. There’s an end in sight, but it could be the end of the year or later before life goes back to “normal.” In the meantime, we have to take care of ourselves — and each other.