The Problem With Your Pandemic “Pod”

Many Americans have come to rely on “pods” for safe socialization, but leaks in social bubbles have become a dangerous inevitability.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undone much of the nation’s social fabric, pushing many people into a world of isolation. As temperatures drop and outdoor socialization becomes less accessible, people will have to start making hard decisions about the safety of their existing social networks. In response to this conundrum, many Americans are creating “pods,” or small exclusive groups of people, to socialize with indoors as the pandemic rages on. However, these pods that many people have come to rely on aren’t foolproof and take a lot of intention and planning to pull off safely.

Listen: Are social pods really that safe? 


Rachel Gutman is the deputy managing editor of The Atlantic and recently wrote a piece about pandemic pods titled, “Sorry to Burst Your Quarantine Bubble.” She says the intention of pods is to limit the spread of the virus by keeping social circles extremely exclusive. This exclusivity keeps the virus contained should there be an outbreak in a small pod. “In theory… a system of ‘bubbles’ inside of a community is supposed to limit the spread of the virus inside the community… (But) these closed pods might not really be so closed,” says Gutman. She says that leakage is a common issue in social bubbles and that no pod is perfect. The most important thing you can do, according to Gutman, is to be really intentional about communicating expectations with the people you’re forming a pod with.

Dr. Paul Kilgore is an Associate Professor & Director of Research at Wayne State University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He suggests people read state guidelines about forming pods at before starting their own bubble. He says when a pod is created it’s important to have conversations about behavior within the pod and expectations for when members leave the pod as well as the health risks involved. “Another key point is really talking about, within your pod, how vulnerable is each individual member,” says Dr. Kilgore on the importance of transparency in maintaining social bubbles.

The general recommendation, Dr. Kilgore says, is to keep pods under ten people. In addition to keeping your pod small, one of the most important things to keep you safe, he says, is to keep wearing a mask when in public. According to Dr. Kilgore, it’s important the mask cover both the mouth and nose as the virus is particularly attracted to receptors in your nasal cavity.

This post was written by Clare Brennan

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