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Would Life Be Sweeter In A Coronavirus Bubble? It Depends.

Published: May 27, 2020 | Last Updated: October 24, 2022 By | 2 Replies Continue Reading

This past weekend, I received an email from New York Times best-selling author and opinion columnist Jennifer Weiner who was writing a story about coronavirus bubbles. She asked if I might be willing to weigh in on some of the social minefields entailed with being in (or left out of) a coronavirus bubble. 

Weiner defined a “quarantine bubble” (also called a coronavirus bubble) as follows: A group of individuals or families whose members have been safely quarantining and who can now start hanging out with other observant groups, so long as the families observe safety guidelines and agree to be exclusive.

The social perils of self-isolation

The pandemic has thrown almost every aspect of life topsy-turvy, especially our social lives because aside from hand-washing and wearing masks, maintaining physical distance from friends and family members is one of the only things we can do to protect ourselves from catching the virus. Social distancing also offers a modicum of control in a situation that renders most of us powerless.

But this physical separation has left single people feeling isolated, husbands and wives getting on each other’s nerves because of being cooped up together without other social outlets, and children and adolescents yearning to see their peers in real life rather than only from behind computer screens. 

Grandparents are separated from their children and grandchildren and in many homes, empty nests have suddenly filled up with young people back from closed colleges or fleeing their urban apartments to work remotely with their folks and siblings. 

As a baby step towards socializing more freely, some countries in Europe are experimenting with different types of coronavirus bubbles. Several friends I know are planning bubbles of their own at summer rentals in the Hamptons or winter getaways in Florida, either with other couples, families or another single person. 

Isolation can exacerbate depression and anxiety.

Isolation can exacerbate depression and anxiety.

Considerations before creating or joining a coronavirus bubble

Here are some considerations if you are thinking about how viable a coronavirus bubble (or social pod) might be for you:

1- Decide whether it’s something you really want

Sure, everyone wants to get back to the old “normal” and relax with other people. We all feel a sense of isolation, that is probably most acute for adults who live alone and only-children who yearn for companionship.

Our individual needs for others vary, too, based on our pre-pandemic temperaments and personalities. Some of us are innately more social and get energized from being with others; others are perfectly comfortable staying at home. In fact, life now (for some) may not be that much different than life before everyone was urged to stay-at-home.

There are some real functional reasons to bubble-up with others, too. Because of health or age, some may want to pair up with friends or family members who can help them shoulder the burdens of daily living (e.g. shopping and other chores). Working parents may welcome the opportunity to offer their kids safe “play dates” in a two-family-or-more bubble so they can focus on their jobs without the burdens of juggling work, childcare and homeschooling. 

But hanging out with others—even one other individual—ups the risk of contracting the virus. So it’s prudent to carefully evaluate whether the benefits outweigh the risks in your particular situation.

2- Have the talk

Before you commit, talk to the other parties who will be brought into the bubble. For families, the two parents will probably want to discuss the idea with each other before they broach it with children. If you are a single person, you’ll similarly want to have an exploratory, no-obligation discussion with the other person(s).

Being involved in a bubble is an all-in or all-out decision so everyone has to agree or it’s a no-go. 

3- Choose the members of your coronavirus bubble—carefully

Sometimes, a bubble evolves naturally. It might be two families who travel together often, whose children play well together and almost feel like cousins. Other times, it may be two besties who just seem to “click” and usually spend most of their time together (under more usual circumstances). Or it might be two lovers who wonder why they are living separate lives. (Some people are already quarantine-bubbling together and never realized the phenomenon had a name!) 

Other times, the choice of whom to bubble with requires more deliberation and soul-searching. 

Regardless of how the choice comes to be, you’ll need to make sure that you have similar values about risk-taking and that you completely trust that the other individuals will take the same precautions as you. Your life depends on it!  If one person inadvertently introduces the virus into the bubble by not playing by the rules, everyone else in the bubble is at risk.

4- Lay out the rules

Before you get together, you’ll want to agree on the rules and make sure everyone buys into them.

  • Is it okay for one individual in the group to go to the grocery store? To work outside the home? 
  • Is it okay for one participant to have a housekeeper come into their house? A repairman?
  • What are the expectations re: hand washing? Wearing of masks indoors? 
  • What will happen if there is a transgression and someone violates “the rules?” Will that mean the end of the bubble or will there be second chances?
  • Will the group be open at some future time to broadening the bubble to include other people?

If everyone can’t agree on the rules upfront, it’s likely that there will be more serious disagreements later on.

5- Don’t broadcast

As Weiner points out, by nature, a bubble is exclusionary so other people who are not included are likely to feel jealous or left out. For this reason, it’s probably not a good idea to post photos on Facebook or Instagram about the good times you’re having while others are still feeling lonely. After all, aren’t you doing this, at least in part, because you want to get away from virtual engagement and zoom parties?

If there are family members or very close friends you feel you should tell about your bubble, be sure to communicate with them beforehand rather than them finding out after the fact. It’s less likely to cause hurt. Reaffirm how much you value their friendship and explain the logic of your choice right now.

Have you been in a coronavirus bubble? How would you feel about being in one?

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  1. Helen Fisher says:

    As alone as I feel right now I wouldn’t consider a “bubble” arrangement. Most of my family is gone now so I have been alone for quite some time. Friends have their families so adding me to their group probably doesn’t enter their minds. I can understand that. And as the world changes because of the virus and now, the riots, etc. going on, I am coming across people who have no consideration or courtesy towards others. It’s becoming more and more noticable. This has made it easier and necessary for me to isolate myself. I’ve got a neighbor who continually works on his vehicle either early morning…4 am…or late evening…11:00 pm and later. Trying to talk to him results in yelling and cursing from him. Other neighbors also are fed up with all this but they’ve been intimidated and threatened. Basically we all stay in our houses now, no more communication between neighbors. The police here have a hands-off approach to everything, they do pretty much nothing. I, hopefully in the next few weeks, will be moving into a camper van and leaving this area. I’m already in my 70’s but I would prefer being alone to being subjected to people like that. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it appears that’s the way the world will now be.

    • Irene says:

      Sounds like your neighborhood isn’t too neighborly. Many people are taking to camping vans to explore other areas of the country. I hope that your trip brings you some peace and enjoyment. Stay safe!

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