Double your bubble. Gatherings of two to six people are okay. Social circles of ten are allowed. These are some of the messages public health and government officials have used as COVID-19 restrictions relax. And welcome ones after months of lock downs. But it begs the question a lot of people have been asking themselves, who’s in my bubble and how do I manage it?
With each jurisdiction at different stages of the pandemic and using different messaging, it can be confusing which one to listen to. But whether it’s by province, state or country, the underlying message is the same. It’s now okay to mix with a few more people not in your household.
Does this mean the pandemic has passed?
Definitely not. The risk of transmitting the virus and contracting COVID-19 is still there. And just as high as before. We’ve also been witness to a resurgence of cases in many areas around the world. Even in places that were thought to have it under control such as Hong Kong, California and Alberta.
With the unknowns of the coronavirus and it’s rapid spread in the early stages, governments opted for lock down. Add to that the lack of effective treatment and no vaccine, there were concerns what happened in China and Italy would happen everywhere. Fortunately, apart from a few regions, that wasn’t the case.
In recent months, we’ve come to learn more about the virus. We know who are the most vulnerable. We know that even if you don’t have symptoms, you can still carry the virus and pass it on. We know young adults get it and can get sick. Children also don’t appear to be the superspreaders at first believed. But there’s still more to learn. However, most of us are at a point where we’re ready to increase our social interactions, and in doing so, accept some risk.
Expanding Your Bubble
Under government mandated lock downs, it was pretty clear what everyone needed to do. Whether you agreed with it or not, you were told to stay at home. Some cities fined people for not adhering to the restrictions. Now, as things loosen up comes the decision part.
When it comes to how many people in your bubble, there’s no rocket science manual. There’s no optimal number to reduce your risk to zero unless you keep yourself isolated from everyone else. But that can come with it’s own problems. Therefore, it’s a trade-off between risks of getting or transmitting the virus with getting the pleasures and benefits of social interactions. The greater the number in your bubble, the greater the risk.
During the 1980’s when the HIV epidemic came to the forefront, we were taught in high school the best way to avoid HIV was to avoid sex or use a condom. If not, it would be like having sex with all of that person’s sex partners as well. The same applies to the coronavirus. If you sit down to meet with someone outside your household for coffee or a meal, you’re actually sitting down with that person plus all of the people they’ve been with in the past two weeks.
Who’s in my bubble?
But how do you begin to figure out who’s in your bubble and who isn’t? Most of us have more than six to ten people we’d like to see. But many of us also live with other people too. Add to that, people have different levels of comfort with engaging during a pandemic, or even have different beliefs of the risk, and you have a potentially stressful, if not confrontational situation.
First off, there’s no requirement to expand your bubble. Perhaps you’re a health care worker or someone at high risk for complications of COVID-19. Or maybe you’re just not ready and that’s fine. Lots of us are anxious and weary of engaging with others. However, not everyone will see things through your eyes. You may have family or friends who may be more than eager to have you over for dinner. Saying no to them may make for an awkward moment.
Even if you are ready to get back to spending more time with loved ones in a more intimate setting than two metres apart it can be a challenge. You make a mental list (or even a written one) and come up with more than a dozen people. Most of whom are family. But then there’s your uncle, cousin or friend, who perhaps doesn’t take it as seriously. If you avoid them, then you have to cut off that whole family or circle.
To make it more challenging, the rest of your family, or roommates, have their own list. And each of those people on your lists may have lists of their own. And so on. As a result, the risks increase. Of course you don’t want to upset others but you also want to protect yourself and those around you. Pretty soon it’s worse than putting together a guest list for a wedding.
Etiquette, Communication and Empathy are Key
Communication and empathy are probably your best ways of handling these situations. Ask others what their intentions are for engaging people, their risk-avoidance behaviours and daily routines. Who do they see? Do they practice physical distancing? Tell them your thoughts as well. At the same time, consider what level of risk is acceptable to you.
It’s possible you may see eye-to-eye on everything, and that’s a great match. But, most likely there may be some differences. Some people may be more hesitant than you. Others may be less cautious. Perhaps there are things you can compromise on. And think back to what your acceptable risk is. Remember, each person has likely been affected by the pandemic differently. Some may have suffered financially. Others have had anxiety. These experiences will likely shape how they feel about engaging.
But there could be a person that you’re just not comfortable having in your bubble. It could be a sibling or lifelong friend. Be empathetic in telling them ‘no’. Let them know you’re not ready because you’re protecting your health or someone else’s. This doesn’t mean you can’t see them. One solution is to meet them outside and have a physically distance meeting.
Be respectful to your bubble and keep physically distant from those outside of it. Wear a mask when that’s not possible and wash your hands frequently. If you’re hosting a get together, let everyone know who’s coming. And don’t be offended if some people decline to attend.
What if the bubble leaks?
Bubbles aren’t impenetrable. We all have to venture out to get groceries or work. Despite following the best practices, you or someone in your bubble may get the virus. Ensure that people in your bubble feel trusted and vice versa so that if a positive test comes up it’s discussed. If you do test positive, be open to cutting off contact.
Recognize this is a tough time for everyone and fatigue may set in causing us to have a lapse in judgment, or not be as vigilant with physical distancing. Be ready to have an open conversation. Avoid shaming. Figure out if things can be corrected, or will the bubble need to change.
Expanding your bubble is meant to bring back the enjoyment of socializing to your life but there’s no rule book. If you have any additional thoughts or strategies, please include them in the comments to share with others.
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