Bubble up but don't bubble over

Keep your bubble small and consistent. The larger the group, the more socialization can occur, but that comes with added risk.

There is a safe way to expand your social circle without compromising your health. Social bubbles, also known as a pods or “quaranteams” can help you socialize safely after months of physical distancing. Joining with another household or just one or two individuals allows families to take turns caring for each other’s children, provides children more opportunities to play and socialize with others, and will help ease loneliness and provide improved social support for those who have felt isolated.

1. What is a social bubble?

You probably have a social bubble and may not realize it. It could be your group of close friends, extended family members, neighbors or coworkers. A bubble is a term used to describe the small group of people outside your household who have agreed to socialize only with each other and are committed to the same precautions to protect each other from COVID-19.

You can extend your bubble to select people, so you can have more in-person social interactions beyond your household, while still minimizing your risk for COVID-19. It doesn’t mean that you can go out and resume contact with everyone you know, but rather you commit to only socializing with certain individuals. Outside the bubble, wearing a face covering and physical distancing must still be practiced.

2. Is it safe to form a bubble with people outside my household?

Bubbles are still risky. When you interact with more people, you increase your odds of infection. Some people may need to keep their social bubbles small. For example, individuals at high risk for serious illness or those whose work brings them in contact with high risk individuals may not want to expand their social bubble beyond their household at all to minimize exposure to others. Staying home and limiting close contact with people are still the best ways to avoid community spread.

3. What are the rules for “bubbling up?” Should there be a maximum number of people or households within a bubble?

Keep your bubble small and consistent. Bubble up but do not bubble over. The larger the group, the more socialization can occur, but that comes with added risk. Every additional person adds more risk for everyone else in the group. Keeping your bubble small is key for minimizing your risk.

4. How do I bubble up safely?

There are a few things to keep in mind when considering if a bubble is right for you and your family:

Know about people’s health conditions. Ask your friends or potential bubble mates if they have any underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, that may put them at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. If there are people in the group who are considered at-risk, it may be best to find alternative ways to socialize without in-person interaction.

Set some ground rules. Make sure you are creating a social bubble with people you really trust so that everyone feels comfortable and safe. About a week before getting together in-person, have a conversation about what you’re hoping for and share details about your daily life and the precautions your family takes. Identify what types of activities are OK, and what’s off-limits. The goal is to have an honest conversation to determine whether you and the others in your bubble are on the same page.

Your bubble’s ground rules should include an agreement to follow safe practices – to wear a face covering when outside their home and when around others who are not members of the bubble, stay home whenever possible, and follow good hand hygiene. Communicate where you’ve been, including places you’ve traveled or events you’ve attended.

Make sure no one has been sick. Of course, you should stay home and not mingle with other households if you’re symptomatic, if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 in the past 14 days, or if you’ve had close contact with someone who has had COVID-19. People who have had COVID-19 have to be three days without a fever and 10 days without any symptoms before being in close contact with anyone else.

5. Should we still wear a face covering and observe physical distancing while hanging out with those within our social bubble?

Depending on the activity that you and those in your bubble are participating in, make sure you follow your county’s guidelines for face coverings. When in doubt, wear a face covering.

6. I’ve been told to physically distance from my grandparents. Can my bubble now include people over 65?

Yes, technically your bubble can include those over age 65; however, it’s important to take precautions. Social bubbles are an excellent way to allow families across multiple households to come together once again. However, older adults whose immune systems may be weak are especially vulnerable to effects of COVID-19. Therefore, all members of a social bubble should continue to practice protective measures of physical distancing, wearing face coverings, frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, and following isolation or quarantine guidelines if a member of the social bubble is diagnosed or exposed to COVID-19. People who are forming a bubble that includes people over 65 or those at high risk should consider a smaller-sized bubble with a very cautious approach to outside contact.

7. I’m a nurse in the emergency room (or I’m an essential worker). Can my family still be part of a social bubble?

Yes, but this is a higher-risk bubble. Take your usual precautions with hand washing and sanitizing for the safety of your family and your social bubble friends. One tip: it’s important for people who create bubbles that include members at higher risk for serious illness to keep those bubbles as small as possible.

8. What activities can I do with members of my bubble? Are indoor activities okay?

At this point, bubble activities should be outdoors. Pick a workout buddy or jogging partner and exercise with the same person consistently. Coordinate playdates for children outdoors and host small get-togethers in the yard or at the beach.

9. What if I’m not comfortable with members of my current bubble? Some of them have become too relaxed about following safe practices when outside their home.

Many may find that they have formed a bubble with other households without first having important conversations about safe practices. It may feel awkward to bring this up after weeks of already interacting, but it is crucial to do so, especially if you realize that the other members aren’t taking precautions as seriously as they should be.

Before having a conversation, agree to have no hard feelings. Recognize together that the COVID-19 pandemic has put your relationship to a test it might never have otherwise experienced. Discuss why you wanted to bubble up and agree to follow the same rules. Talk through your daily routines and agree that you’ll communicate about things that may worry each other or about changes in routine. Remember that distrust is usually worse than disagreement. If you know each other’s habits, you can always discuss them and find a compromise, but if you or they are caught hiding something, this can be detrimental for your relationship.

10. What happens if someone in my bubble gets sick?

If one person in the group tests positive for COVID-19, that person will need to be isolated from the remainder of the bubble and everyone else will need to remain quarantined for 14 days, including missing work and being separated from each other.

Isolation is used to separate sick people with a contagious disease (like COVID-19) from people who are not sick, especially in a hospital, while quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. They may be checked on regularly by health officials.

These are some of the trade-offs and ways to manage the risks that come with social bubbles. You can use the CDC’s symptom checker if you are being monitored by the Hawaii Department of Health. Learn more about isolation and quarantine from this video.

11. What if I can’t or don’t want to bubble up with others?

Even if it’s your best friend, you shouldn’t get together with people who haven’t been following safe practices or taking COVID-19 seriously. If you see someone posting on social media that they’re going to large group gatherings, or not wearing a face covering when they’re out of the home, feel free to not bubble.