Are 'Social Bubbles' the Next Step in Social Distancing?


If you’re one of the people who is currently isolating at home, it’s likely that you’re dreaming of the day in which you’ll be able to see all of your loved ones in person again.

Whether they’re family members, friends, or neighbors, adhering to stay-at-home orders has meant not being able to see them like you’d like. So, what’s going to happen when the restrictions are lifted?

In some countries, like New Zealand where they’ve successfully controlled the COVID-19 outbreak, the government is suggesting that people make “social bubbles.”

“A bubble is your household — the people you live with. Under Alert Level 3, you can slightly extend your bubble. For example, you can bring in a caregiver, or children who might be in shared care. Or, if you are living alone, or a couple who wants the company of another one or two people,” says New Zealand's government website. “These people do not need to live in the same household but must be local. Always keep your bubble exclusive and keep it small.”

Under this extended social bubble, as long as everyone involved is adhering to the same rules and only interacts within the bubble, the chance of infection is greatly reduced compared to normal interactions. Theoretically, if one person in the bubble gets sick with coronavirus, they could infect others within the bubble, but it wouldn’t necessarily spread the illness to the rest of the community if everyone in the bubble quarantined themselves.

However, in order for this to work all people in the social bubble can’t be part of other social bubbles. If your sister lives in the same community as you, your children could play with their cousins without fear of infection. But if one of the children plays with another child, like a neighbor, both your social bubble and the neighbors’ social bubble is then at risk.

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