Social bubbles – made up of friends and family – may be the best way to contain the coronavirus when the lock is released, research shows.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have created a series of models to discover the best measures governments can use to keep the infection rate down.
Strict social distance and isolation measures were likely ignored by large sections of the population, so a solution was needed that people would follow, they found.
However, creating small groups of contacts can keep the risks of COVID-19 low and give people more freedom, according to researchers at Oxford University.
Strict social distance and isolation measures were likely ignored by large sections of the population, so a solution was needed that people would follow, they found
Experts looked at three different scenarios for how people could communicate more with others in a post-lockdown world while still keeping the spread of COVID-19 low.
This included maintaining contact with the neighborhood, people you see regularly, and creating social bubbles with certain groups of people.
Researchers propose three options for staying in touch
OPTION ONE: AGREEMENTS
Meet people who live in your own neighborhood – and up to a block or two away from your home.
Or it can apply to people with similar interests.
OPTION TWO: SOCIAL CONTACTS
This option means sticking to people you usually have regular contact with, such as friends and family.
It depends on greatly reducing social interaction with people you don’t have regular contact with.
OPTION THREE: SOCIAL CALLS
Regularly interact with the same small group of three or four social contacts.
This includes creating people’s social bubbles or micro-communities.
All three strategies were effective in controlling the spread of the virus, although social bubbles were more beneficial in some ways, experts said.
Lead author Dr. Per Block said that all of their strategies treated the groups people came in contact with as if they were in the same household – so they didn’t have to be six feet apart.
Block said it was important that social distance was maintained outside of these scenarios, such as when people went to the supermarket.
“In the first scenario, you might want to meet people who live in your area so you can extend the radius of your contact to a block or two away from your house,” he said.
Second, you ask yourself: who do you work with regularly?
“So you may have a group of friends, or you have a family with your parents, your siblings, your cousins, and you’re trying to limit interactions to these groups,” Block said.
This means that you may avoid haphazard contacts, such as the person you only see for specific activities or even Tinder dates.
“The third scenario is very similar to what is discussed as social bubbles, which actually stick to the same people,” Block said.
The idea is that you choose a handful of people from outside your household and that they are the only ones you meet regularly while ignoring the 6ft rule.
He said that in practical terms it may be necessary to limit the number of people in the bubble, because the larger the bubble, the riskier it becomes.
Two of the scenarios could potentially be combined, such as seeing a social bubble plus neighbors, but that the frequency of interactions would then have to be reduced to limit transmission risk.
Real-world data is now needed to see how people handled each scenario.
“We can say with reasonable confidence that all these different options for restructuring contacts seem to work,” Block said.
He said that every scenario requires “people to stick to it, people to understand that it is useful, and people to trust others to do it.”
“In a way, it is a good question of solidarity that we are all in this together and that is why we must all abide by the rules,” he added.
As for transmission risk, the “best scenario” was that everyone would stay at home, he said.
“But here, of course, we have the greatest psychological, social and economic costs,” so it’s not the best option than just mitigating the coronavirus.
“If we were to fully open up society now … in terms of transmission speeds, this would be a disaster,” said Block.
So what we’ve tried to do is go somewhere in between and say ‘what if we’re just trying to minimize our contacts, but also trying to be smart with whom we meet and strategically structure our interactions? “. ‘
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has previously discussed the concept of social bubbles.
The latest available Sage minutes of May 7 show that while counselors agree that social bubbles provide benefits for well-being and mental health, there are risks if introduced alongside other changes or poor adherence is.
Experts looked at three different scenarios for how people could communicate more with others in a post-lockdown world while the spread of COVID-19 remained low
The effects of bubbles are complex. Introducing bubbles in addition to other changes can reconstruct excessive networks, especially in combination with an increase in contacts in other institutions, “the minutes said.
“These networks can enable transmission through the population. It will be difficult to assess the effects of individual policy changes on R if multiple changes are made together. ‘
Of the latest Oxford study, Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said the study shows that lockdown release is about harm reduction.
“One of the most interesting elements of this study is that it directly addresses a key element of current public health advice in the UK,” said Bauld.
This is the line “Stay two meters away from someone who is not in your household.”
“For single couples and singles, including our young people, this rule can be considered unfair and unlikely to be followed in the long term.”
Bauld said this research suggests that the concept of a social bubble and creating mico-communities could reduce the risk of people ignoring the rule.
“This would appeal to couples who don’t live together, or, as the researchers note, a group of caregivers caring for vulnerable adults, or perhaps even allowing those in the protected category to meet,” she said.
“It was also the most effective strategy included in the study to enable more contact between individuals and slow the spread of the virus.”
However, she emphasized that human behavior is not predictable and “does not necessarily correspond to what the statistical models predict in this study.”
The study is published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.