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How to form a COVID-19 social ‘bubble’ or ‘quaranteam’

As the country begins to open up, more people may be considering expanding their social circles beyond their immediate household. MIT Technology Review’s Gideon Lichfield recently broke two months of isolation to form a “bubble” or “quaranteam” with friends, and wrote a guide about how to navigate this new reality for some. NewsHour Weekend's Megan Thompson spoke to Litchfield to learn more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    As the nation opens up, some people are starting to think about cautiously expanding their social circles. Gideon Lichfield, the Editor-in-Chief of the MIT Technology Review, recently broke two months of isolation to form with some friends what's known as a "pod," a "bubble" or a "quaranteam" — that's "team," with an "m." Lichfield wrote a guide about how to do this safely and spoke recently to NewsHour Weekend's Megan Thompson.

  • Megan Thompson:

    So you wrote recently about forming a COVID "pod" or a COVID "bubble." What does that mean?

  • Gideon Lichfield:

    It means there's a handful of friends, some people who I decided to treat as safe. In other words, we all take the same precautions. We agree on what precautions we're going to take, we make sure we're all on the same page, we're not mixing with other people. But we go to one another's houses and we hang out as normal people do. And we do that because it's a way to basically have time to spend with other people. Since I live alone, being alone for two months has been pretty hard.

  • Megan Thompson:

    So you've been going through this period of self isolation totally alone?

  • Gideon Lichfield:

    Yes. I mean, I've done a handful of, like, walks in the park with friends where we, you know, we are distanced apart and we wear masks. I've done a little bit of that. Obviously, I do Zoom calls with friends like everybody else. But yes, I live alone and I hadn't spent normal time in proximity to other people since we all went in to shut down.

  • Megan Thompson:

    So you came up with a guide about how to navigate these COVID bubbles. What is one of the most important things to keep in mind?

  • Gideon Lichfield:

    Look, first of all, keep in mind that if you decide to share your life with other people, you are adding risk to yourself and to them and also potentially to the rest of society, because you could, if you catch the disease, you could then transmit it to other people. So don't go into it without really thinking about that risk and also really making sure that you meet – and making sure that you're doing it with people that you really trust. The next thing I would say is, you know, communicate in really excessive detail about what precautions you take. How do you wash your vegetables when you come in from the store? Do you take your shoes on or off? Do you change your clothes when you come in or out of the house? Do you clean your keys?

  • Megan Thompson:

    What kinds of things did you discuss with your friends before you decided to bubble up with them?

  • Gideon Lichfield:

    We discussed, for instance, when did you wear a mask? So when we first started having the conversation, I wasn't wearing a mask when I went outside. I wore one if I went to the store, but not if I was just walking in the street. And my friends said, actually, we'd be more comfortable if you wore a mask when you walked on the street as well. After that, then my city passed an ordinance saying you had to wear a mask. So it became moot.

  • Gideon Lichfield:

    So you know, we discussed in detail all of the things we do and all the precautions we take and we got on the same page about what we were going to do. And then we waited two weeks because it was like starting quarantine from zero. We wanted to make sure that we were being completely safe and doing it the same way before we actually met up. One of the things that I think is important is we're all making this up as we go along and we're all taking decisions about which precautions to take based on, you know, stuff we've read, our gut, how we feel that day, what we've heard. So what's most important is to just be completely on the same page with the people that you're with so that there are no surprises.

  • Megan Thompson:

    You also wrote that you almost want to treat this more like a business transaction than a friend transaction?

  • Gideon Lichfield:

    I think it's important because, you know, all of us have friends, multiple friends, but you can only be in one of these bubbles at a time. It's really not safe to be, you know, bubbling with multiple families, for instance, where, you know, you have no idea what everybody's really doing. And so feelings can get easily hurt if somebody wants to be with you and you don't want to be with them or vise versa. Treat this as something that you're doing because it's good for your mental health or whatever, whatever your reasons are for doing it. But don't treat it as a commentary or a judgment on your friendship with someone.

  • Megan Thompson:

    So now you've been socializing with your friends for, what, about a week and a half now? How's it been going?

  • Gideon Lichfield:

    It's been great. Honestly, for me, one of the best things is to be able to cook food for other people rather than just for myself. So it's it. And to have conversations that don't get ended because somebody has to hop off on another Zoom call or that are constrained by the parameters of the screen. You know, that quality human contact is completely different from the kind that we have when we're talking to people on the phone, on the screen. And even though I've had lots of contact with, with friends, through Zoom, there's there's a point at which it just doesn't – it's not the same thing. It isn't enough.

  • Megan Thompson:

    Alright, Gideon Lichfield, editor in chief of the MIT Technology Review. Thanks so much for being here.

    Gideon Lichfield; Thanks so much, Megan.

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