Whether it’s a preschool playgroup, a few elementary school children doing online learning, a small bunch of teens allowed to hang out together, a college dorm crew or a team of adults who gather occasionally, many people have joined pods.
Pods – sometimes called “bubbles” or “quaranteams” – aren’t officially recommended by public health officials. And people who have a high risk of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19 because of their age or health should avoid pods.
But many see it as a “middle way” to stay safe, healthy, socially supported and sane amid a raging pandemic.
“Being in a pod is like being in a little rowboat together and trying to stay dry,” says Preeti Malani, M.D., an infectious disease physician at Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center, and chief health officer for the U-M community. “If someone from the boat jumps into the water and then tries to climb back on board, the boat could tip – or they could get their fellow passengers wet. Taking on too many passengers could make the boat sink.”
SEE ALSO: 14 Things to Do If Someone You Live with Has COVID-19
So how can ‘pod people’ keep their risk low, with the coronavirus cases rising rapidly throughout the United States, and the weather forcing many people indoors where the virus can spread easily?
First, make sure all pod members agree on the basic scientific facts about coronavirus:
- Coronavirus is more dangerous than the flu or many other viruses. It has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and made millions more sick, including long-term symptoms.
- It spreads mainly through the air, especially indoors, but can also linger on surfaces.
- Wearing a mask over the mouth and nose can reduce the chance of catching or transmitting it. Protecting your eyes can reduce the chance even more.
- People who catch the coronavirus can go for days without knowing they have it – even while they’re spreading it to others.
- The most contagious days are two to three days before symptoms start, and three to five days after – but can last up to 10 days after the first symptoms appear.
- The highest risk of catching it comes from being within 6 feet of a contagious person for 15 minutes or more, especially indoors without masks.
- Symptoms can develop up to two weeks after being exposed to a contagious person. They include fever, fatigue, dry cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, loss of sense of smell or taste, headache, other aches and sore throat.
- Children and teens can catch and spread it, not just adults.
- Most young people have a lower risk of getting seriously ill or dying from it, but they can spread the virus to people whose age or health issues make them much more likely to end up in the hospital or dead.
- No one wants your pod to lead to a serious illness or death.
Follow these pod COVID-19 safety tips:
1. Keep your pod small, and agree up front exactly who is in the pod. Pledge to be truthful with one another, and swear to follow public health guidance.
Even if you think of the pod as being the children, teens or adults who want to be together for learning or socializing, it actually includes everyone who lives with a pod member, too. That’s because the virus can spread easily in households or group living quarters.
Agreeing to be in a pod, and to let your children or yourself enter other “pod homes” without masks, means you’re taking on the COVID risk of everyone in the pod.
So, you should all agree that you’ll tell everyone in the pod if you or someone you live with feels sick. You should all be ready to admit to everyone that you slipped and went to a non-pod party where people weren’t wearing masks. And people who aren’t working from home should commit to notifying the pod if they find out that someone at work has the virus or might have it.
Any brush with the virus means you should uphold the trust that your pod-mates place in you, and stay away from them for the time periods outlined below. Your pod is only as good as its weakest link.
Don’t be the weakest link.
2. Get a flu shot.
The last thing you need this fall and winter is a false alarm in your pod when someone comes down with a fever, aches, cough or a general “bleh” feeling, and you don’t know if it’s flu or COVID-19. Though the flu shot doesn’t prevent all cases of the flu, it can keep you from getting as sick as you would have otherwise.
3. Find ways to be together outside, or to reduce indoor risk.
Even if everyone in the pod is working hard to stay safe, the virus can find its way in. And if you’re indoors in a small stuffy space, close to someone in your pod who has it but doesn’t know it yet, you’re at high risk of catching it.
If the weather allows, spend as little “pod time” indoors as possible. When you have to be indoors, keep the ventilation system running and don’t get too close together.
4. When you venture out of your pod, play it safe.
Every time you go into the “non-pod world”, you and your fellow pod members increase the risk that you could bring the virus back to your pod-mates. So focus on minimizing trips to indoor locations and prioritizing the ones you need to make most.
Even if your state, county, city or town doesn’t have a mask requirement, everyone in the pod should agree they will always wear a mask over their mouth and nose when they’re in public and near other people who aren’t in the pod.
SEE ALSO: Making Back-to-School Decisions for Families with Underlying Health Conditions
This is especially true for indoor spaces like offices, stores, churches and temples, schools, salons and theaters, or when doing something that makes people breathe harder like playing sports, singing or working out at a gym. If someone asks you why you have a mask on, tell them it’s to protect others, keep calm and walk away.
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