Are you considering widening your social circle to save your sanity? Quarantine Pods might be the answer to helping you improve your social wellbeing.
With social distancing measures looking to continue well through the summer, many people have experienced some strain on their social lives. Loneliness and isolation carry increased risks to mental and physical health and even a higher premature mortality rate.1 We are all vulnerable to these effects, and those with feelings of depression or other contributing factors even more so. July is Social Wellness Month. There has never been a more critical time to highlight the importance of social wellness.
Even if you have a full house of family members at home, it may not be enough to maintain your social wellness. A healthy social life involves participation in multiple social groups (school, work, family, etc.) that don't all overlap. During the pandemic, most people have been cut down to one social group, if any.
Since the global COVID-19 pandemic began a few months ago, most of us have fallen into an uncomfortable but necessary routine of practicing strict social distancing while in public. We allow our barriers to lapse and drop our guard when we return home.
Now that many communities are tentatively starting to open back up, a new tactic has emerged. This tactic improves socializing while minimizing the risk of compromising the last few months' efforts: quarantine pod. In a perfect world, we would have started our battle against this COVID-19 using total isolation to stop the spread. Unfortunately, the complete lockdown of society has proven to be impractical (or even possible in some cases) as a long-term plan. Governments have now opted to limit our close contact with just our households.
It may sound like a sci-fi medical contraption, but a quarantine pod or "quarantine bubble" is a social concept. In this case, the word "pod" refers to a group of people (much like a pod of dolphins). When you create a quarantine pod, you are essentially combining your household with another. The aim is to get a healthy dose of social interaction while still minimizing everyone's risk.
If you're at the end of your rope with remaining socially isolated, consider setting up your very own quarantine pod, or as CNN calls it, your "quaranteam."2
Trust is essential to the quarantine pod working. Now is not the time to extend an olive branch to the more reckless contacts in your social group. When you're selecting members for your quarantine pod, you need to know they aren't going out to the bars on Saturday nights before swinging around to your place for Sunday brunch.
If you don't feel comfortable expanding your social bubble right now, then don't. It's as simple as that. You know what is best for you and your household. If you have a family member with a compromised immune system or you just don't feel ready to re-enter social groups yet, that is okay. You can always join a quarantine bubble later.
If Zoom calls and text messages keep you satisfied for now, don't rush yourself back out into a social bubble. Forcing yourself to socialize when you don't yet feel comfortable may cause added stress and anxiety.
Just because you have decided to form a quarantine pod doesn't mean you should disregard all hygiene precautions while inside your "bubble". While you might be a little loose with the 6-foot rule, follow the rest of the CDC's basic guidelines for limiting the risk of infection.3 These include washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, sanitizing high-use surfaces, and using hand sanitizer.
If someone within your quarantine pod becomes ill or has knowingly exposed to COVID-19, consider ceasing group activities for two weeks. The CDC has recommendations for caring for someone sick with COVID-194 and determining when an exposed person is no longer likely to be contagious.5
It might take some time to find your ideal quarantine pod. There are bound to be some uncomfortable conversations along the way. Maybe the family you asked has teamed up with someone else, or perhaps they don't want to commit to a quarantine pod. You may have to tell someone you don't feel comfortable with them being a member of your social bubble.
Tip: It may be best to use the "it's not you, it's me" approach when declining an offer.
The most important thing is that you retain your social group. Don't let the forming of social pods become the battle over seating arrangements in the high school cafeteria.
All quarantine pods look a little different. The quintessential example of a quarantine pod is two nuclear families with young children. Many quarantine pods are "child selected," meaning the families choose each other because their children get along.
However, your quarantine pod may not look like this. Your quarantine bubble may consist of three couples or just you and a friend. As long as you follow precautions and keep your numbers low, any combination can make a viable quarantine bubble.
According to experts, it's best to keep your pod to 10 people, or fewer, as any group larger than that exponentially increases your risk of exposure. So keep "smaller is better"' in mind while selecting group members.6
Remember that you don't have to team up with the "obvious" choices. For example, you may choose to create a pod with your neighbors rather than your in-laws. Proximity over family is perfectly acceptable, especially if some family members may not be taking social distancing seriously. These are the people you will likely be socializing with all summer, so don't be shy about choosing wisely.
Odds are you may have already been cheating with social distancing rules by now, most likely with family or close friends. You may have something of a quarantine pod going already.
Communication is critical. For a quarantine pod to be capable, everyone involved has to agree to adhere to social distancing rules when outside of the quaranteam. If you have allowed a pod to casually "fall together," then no one has formally agreed to this rule. The people who are cheating on their isolation with you are likely doing it with other people.
If you want your current group to become a quarantine pod, sit down for a talk and see if everyone is on board. Make sure everyone understands that you want to make this rag-tag group of awesome friends more official.
When you're negotiating your quarantine pod, it's essential to be thorough. Never assume your group members will have the same opinions about what constitutes social distancing. Be sure to talk about which scenarios are acceptable and which would be considered "off-limits." Is everyone comfortable with pod members taking non-essential trips to the doctor or dentist? What about eating out?
Lay down your rules and also your expectations. Under what circumstances should a pod member warn the group about a potential exposure? Remember to listen, too. Your group members may have their legitimate concerns and stipulations.
Things change. Maybe the neighbors you were quarantining with have recently had to go back into the office in a high-risk job. Perhaps you find yourself needing to take in a relative who is sick. Whatever happens, know that you can alter your quarantine bubble to match your new situation (or cease having a quarantine bubble entirely).
While it is ideal not to change your group (this opens up potential new exposures), don't be afraid to make necessary changes. For example, if you notice your quarantine pod members behaving recklessly, you can politely cut them off.
It can be tricky to find the perfect match for your family. The difficulty comes from the need to find people who are not only trustworthy but also another household that is going to bring something positive to the table. This positivity can mean sharing common interests or being compatible in other ways.
For example, if you have small children, it may be wisest to create a pod with another young family, so you can also maximize the social benefits for your children.
If your children are playing with other members of your quarantine bubble, go ahead and take your hands off the reins a bit and relax. Your hands off the controls don't mean throwing all common sense to the wind. Still, if you are going to enforce strict social distancing on your child even with members of your quarantine pod, you might as well not have a social bubble at all. Young children often have trouble internalizing abstract concepts like social distancing. A quarantine pod is a chance for your child to have a friendship that is closer to normal. It also prevents you from spending all your time measuring how far apart your children are standing and yelling at them for taking off their masks. The quarantine pod gives yourself a break from the constant worry over your child's exposure to the virus.
Be careful about setting up a quarantine pod that includes members of the population at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications. The elderly and those with underlying conditions like diabetes are all on the list of high-risk populations.7
If a high-risk individual wants to become a member of your pod, make sure they are comfortable assuming the increased risk (and you are comfortable being partly responsible for it).
The creation and organization of these social bubbles may sound like quite the undertaking. Quarantine pods are inherently risky, but so is everything in life. With the proper precautions, your quarantine pod can be a relatively safe way to get some much-needed social contact. If you're skeptical about the benefits of a quarantine pod, consider the following:
In studying the differences between virtual communication and face-to-face communication, in-person interactions always come out on top. A phone call or a text message doesn't have the same positive effects on our mood and mental health.8
A healthy amount of personal contact can boost your mood and help fight the feelings depressed. Conversely, extreme isolation can cause severe degradation of a person's and physical health.9 The results are in, and people still need people. Balancing social and physical health during a pandemic is not easy, but it is necessary.
Growing up is hard enough without being isolated from your friends. Young children especially need opportunities to interact with other children. Playtime is how they develop social skills, gain confidence, and release pent up energy. Older children and teenagers also need to spend time with their peers. Remember that while a year may not seem like very long to an adult who's put many behind them, a year can seem like an eternity to a young child or adolescent.
Quarantine pods or "quarantine bubbles" are a great way to balance social wellness with physical safety during the coronavirus pandemic. They are not without risk, but with planning, caution, and diligence, you can minimize the risk and the benefits profound.
We need face-to-face social interaction to preserve our mental wellbeing. While the threat of spreading the COVID-19 is a priority, we must also take the time to balance other areas of wellness. Prioritizing all aspects of wellness is especially since this pandemic is far from over.
Ultimately, setting up a quarantine pod is a personal decision between you and your household members. If you're not comfortable setting up a quarantine pod for any reason, it's best to stay away from the idea. Don't rush into a situation that isn't right for you or your family.
(1) Novotney, A (May 2019) The risks of social isolation
(2) Hamedy, S (April 2020) People are ditching their homes and joining their friends to avoid isolation. It's called quaranteaming
(3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (April 2020) How to Protect Yourself & Others
(4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (May 2020) Caring for Someone Sick at Home
(5) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (May 2020) When You Can be Around Others After You Had or Likely Had COVID-19
(6) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 2020) 30 Days to Slow the Spread
(7) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (June 2020) People Who Are at Increased Risk for Severe Illness
(8) Horrom, T (November 2018) Study: In-person, but not online, social contact may protect against psychiatric disorders
(9) Umberson, D; Montez, J (October 2010) Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy