Today I went to the grocery store for the first time in 10 weeks. It was overwhelming and exhausting, and yet oddly… normal? I appreciated the arrows on the floor directing customers to move in one direction through the aisles. Every single person was wearing a mask. Grocery clerks wore gloves, and everyone gave others a wide berth while moving through the store. Well, nearly everyone. Even though it was mentally and emotionally exhausting, it was strangely commonplace. Faced with a crisis, we humans seem to be adapting.
Because we have to.
We aren’t just being forced to adapt to new ways of going about our daily lives, but in the ways that we interact with each other and socialize. Zoom happy hours. Proms in living rooms. Visits through windows and plastic wrap. And after two months of social isolation, many states are now permitting gatherings of small groups of people. It will look differently, though. But we’ll adapt.
One of the ways some other countries are adapting is through the “double bubble.” No, it’s not a kind of gum, but rather a way to begin resuming our social lives in a safe and responsible way. Basically it involves expanding the household “bubble” ever so slightly in ways to continue fighting coronavirus. According to Refinery29, it’s been floated or invoked in Canada, Britain, Germany, and New Zealand. In Canada, for instance, some provinces are allowing families to form their own “social bubble.” Public health officials have made it clear that the households in the bubble aren’t interchangeable; once you combine in the bubble, you stay in the bubble. The decision to join up needs to be mutually agreed upon by both families as well.
“The agreement of exclusivity in this is central to success, as it limits the risk for transmission chains. As a result, such social contact clustering for children would allow them to mingle with their friends while only adding a rather marginal risk for coronavirus infection from, or transmission to, those outside of the play group and their respective households,” Stefan Flasche from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine wrote in an article on the benefits of contact clustering.
While this double bubble strategy could help alleviate loneliness and child care concerns, some experts fear that it’s too risky or premature because many places still lack adequate testing. Health risks aside (though they are obviously paramount), the double bubble is also risky in that it could definitely lead to some hard feelings among friends and feelings of FOMO if other friends partner off without you. Can you even imagine the uncomfortable conversations? It gives me flashbacks to high school cliques just thinking about it.
Not to mention logistically and practically speaking there are a lot of hurdles. You’d need to bubble up a family where the kids and parents all get along with each other, and are aligned in behaviors to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It hinges on shit ton of trust. All it would take is one teen in the group sneaking out at night, or one person not wearing a mask in public to blow the whole thing apart.
“I think this is a situation where you have to look at your individual situation and weigh how well you know the person you are potentially forming that ‘bubble’ with,” Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician and biosecurity fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told CNN. “How sure are you that the person isn’t interacting or socializing with someone that you do not know or that could be at risk for having Covid-19? Because that is the real risk and you could be putting yourself or your loved ones at risk for getting the disease.”
Risks and awkward conversations notwithstanding, the double bubble definitely sounds appealing. I think we’re all more than a little desperate to expand our social circle beyond the people we share a home with, and it could be an effective way to continue slowing the spread of the coronavirus. According to CNN, a new study led by Oxford University found that changing the way our social networks are structured, instead of just reducing the amount we socialize, could be effective in flattening the curve.
“There must be a middle ground between all of us staying at home and all of us meeting the people we want in the ways we want to,” Per Block, one of the study’s authors, told CNN.
That elusive middle ground is what so many of us are searching for. The trouble is, the middle ground is messy. It is confusing. It is uncertain.
The middle ground means taking informed and calculated risks, and getting a little more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable with those risks. The middle ground also requires smart, science-backed behaviors. It means thinking less about our own inconveniences and acting for the benefit of the collective whole.
In fact, part of me hopes that the underlying principles of a “double bubble” happen organically in our communities and our families. I’m praying that even though states are starting to say we can do certain activities, we still question whether we should. I hope that we are cautious and reasonable.
The pandemic has changed us all – as individuals, as families, and as communities. I don’t know about you, but having most of my “normal” life stripped down to its bare bones has made it easier to see what I truly value. We’ve been able to look at our lives and ask the question: what do I want to let back in? And in answering that, it has shined a light on the people and activities I truly value.
Whether it’s a mandated rule here in the U.S. or not, I suspect that the “double bubble” – or some variation of it – will begin to take shape in many families and communities because, quite simply, we’re choosier about who we are spending our time with and how we’re spending that time. We’re less likely to take risks with our health and the health of others. We’re looking for new ways to connect and socialize.
You know… we’re adapting.