Are “bubbles” the next phase as the United States begins to reopen businesses and public facilities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Alameda County, which includes Oakland and Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area, issued new guidelines on Friday that allow for “social bubbles.” These are groups of 12 or fewer people from different households who can gather together outdoors.
Face masks and physical distancing are still recommended. County officials also state that a person can’t belong to more than one bubble at a time.
Canada has been following what’s been dubbed the “double bubble” strategy, one originally enacted with success in New Zealand.
It’s a modification of the sweeping shelter-in-place orders seen in March as the pandemic accelerated.
Rather than restricting social interactions to members of the same household, the new strategy takes the same philosophy but doubles it — allowing two households to link up and socialize.
It isn’t in place across the entire country.
Canada’s largest city, Toronto, is still a hotbed of COVID-19 cases. But in areas that have put the policy in place, the early results seem promising.
Is double bubbling safe? What are the risks versus the rewards?
According to two experts interviewed by Healthline, there’s merit to the idea — if it’s done responsibly.
Experts say physical distancing (aka social distancing) and disruption of daily routines can impact mental health.
Dr. Sean Paul, a psychiatrist and founder of NowPsych, told Healthline that social isolation commonly causes symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“Grieving is something that’s harder to do alone and I feel like people have truly been grieving the loss of their ‘normalcy’ in the purest sense,” he explained.
“The other thing I have seen happening is socially isolated people spending more time trying to connect using social media and this tends to backfire,” Paul added. “People end up getting in heated debates on social media they otherwise wouldn’t in person, or feel more isolated if they see others doing things or spending time with people when they can’t.”
Paul said that, as a psychiatrist, he sees double bubbling as a valid option that will benefit mental health.
“Being alone as a family can be isolating and stressful for children and parents,” he said. “As long as the families agree to follow agreed upon guidelines, then adding a few people to their bubble should be relatively safe.”