How to Safely Socialize in 2021

COVID-19 vaccines are still months away for the majority of Americans, so experts recommend that we continue to wear masks and safely keep our distances from other people. But we need to socialize and a lack of interaction with others can lead to mental and emotional distress.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that the pervasive climate of anxiety, stress, and isolation may be especially harmful to our mental well-being during the pandemic.

One way to combat the isolation is to establish quarantine pods. A quarantine pod, or bubble, is a small group of people who agree to maintain similar precautionary measures such as wearing masks in public and limiting interactions with others who are not part of the group.

Melissa Hawkins, Ph.D., the director of Public Health Scholars Program in the Department of Health Studies at American University, says that establishing a pod after months of isolation is good for mental health, but it is important to make sure that pods or bubbles do not become leaky as people let down their guard. With the new COVID-19 variants arriving, we still need to stick to the precautionary rules, she says, according to Consumer Reports.

Here are some expert strategies you can use to establish your COVID-19 quarantine pod:

  • If you are starting or restarting your pod, make sure everyone has a COVID-19 test, suggests Hawkins. And if any member of the pod travels, follow the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that advise cutting out all nonessential activities for at least 7 days after the trip.
  • Choose wisely. Dr. Preeti Malani, the chief health officer in the Divisions of Infectious Diseases and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Michigan, tells Consumer Reports that the smaller the pod, the better. It is best to limit your bubble to one other family who you trust to be honest about their behavior regarding COVID-19.
  • Set clear rules. Make sure that all pod members are on the same page about activities such as grocery shopping, wearing masks, and socializing outside the pod. A key rule, according to Consumer Reports, is that if any person experiences symptoms of illness, they should report it to all members.
  • Have a plan ready if someone does get sick. Follow the CDC guidelines and how to safely quarantine to avoid exposure to other members of the pod.
  • Reduce risks when you gather. Try to gather outdoors, says Malani, even if it is cold. Keep your masks on and keep the visits brief. “There’s no bad weather, there’s just inadequate clothing,” says the Michigan-based expert.
  • Make encounters meaningful. Chances are you will meet less frequently during the pandemic so make the interaction count. “When you have a chance to be with people, be with people. Don’t be on your phone,” said Malani. Apply the same principle to Zoom meetings which can help people outside the pod stay in touch with each other, say experts. Take the time to really connect with others safely to share and create memories.

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