Pandemic Pod Means Something Different to Everyone

Pandemic Pod Means Something Different to Everyone

Sorry to burst your bubble.

Americans’ social lifelines are beginning to fray. As the temperature drops and the gray twilight arrives earlier each day, comfortably mingling outside during the pandemic is getting more difficult across much of the country. For many people, it’s already impossible.

To combat the loneliness of winter, some of us might be tempted to turn to pods, otherwise known as bubbles. The basic idea is that people who don’t live together can still spend time together indoors, as long as their pod stays small and exclusive. And pods aren’t just for the winter: Since March, parents have formed child-care bubbles. Third graders have been assigned to learning pods. Some NBA teams were in a bubble for months. A July survey of 1,000 Americans found that 47 percent said they were in a bubble.

In theory, a bubble is meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus by trapping it in small groups of people and preventing it from jumping out. “The goal here with an infectious agent like SARS-CoV-2 is that you want to try and not give it hosts,” Keri Althoff, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told me. “That’s the name of the game.” Earlier this year, researchers modeled the best ways to flatten the curve by limiting social interactions and found that having people interact with only the same few contacts over and over again was the most effective approach.