Stay In Your Bubble — and Other Corona Safety Tips

Plus: How to wait for the vaccine without going crazy

Welcome to the web version of Need to Know: Science & Insight, a new form of personal journalism on what we really Need-to-Know about climate impacts, energy transitions, the decline of nature’s support systems, living safely during a pandemic and more. It comes with an often funny personal story and some useful ideas. All in a 5 to 10 minute read in your inbox once a week. It’s FREE! (for now) No ads. No spam.

Hello Friends, this issue is on how to stay safe over the next few months based on the latest science and medical advice to avoid encountering the coronavirus. (Technically, the specific coronavirus to avoid is called SARS-CoV-2. It causes the coronavirus disease 2019 better known as COVID-19.) 

Two very good friends recently asked to meet for lunch while they were in town. These days to go or not to have lunch with friends is a very difficult decision. My friends are careful people who live in a rural community. The restaurant was large, tables well-spaced and unlikely to be busy. I really wanted to see these friends whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. 

What would you do in this situation? 

With much regret I said no.

To make my lunch date decision I used the Covid Risk Reduction Mantra I presented in the first issues of Need to Know. The mantra describes six main infection risk factors to help assess the overall risk of our various daily activities:

Time And Place, People And Space, Caseload and Consequence

I live with my partner’s parents who are over 80 years old with compromised health. That’s the Consequence part, and a major concern of mine. 

Place was also part of my decision. Indoors is far riskier than outside. Studies and rising numbers of cases have confirmed this. A Japanese study found that an infected person was 18.7 times more likely to spread the virus indoors than outside. 

Additionally, there was the problem of Space. It’s hard to have lunch with someone while staying at least 6 feet (one caribou) apart.

Caseload was another factor. Infection rates are far higher than they were in the summer pretty well everywhere. Switzerland has been the worst in the world recently with over 500 cases per 100,000 people. The world average is 51. 

While my friends are careful and COVID-safe, they are not People in my household bubble. If I had gone to lunch, that would have compromised my bubble. Small indoor get-togethers with friends and families are largely behind the recent surge in cases in the US. If it wasn’t snowing, I could have done lunch outdoors with my friends and by staying 6 feet apart it would have greatly reduced the risk of compromising my bubble. (Here’s wishing for warm weather the next time they visit.)

Two Need-to-Know Covid Risk Reduction Rules: 

Maintain the integrity of your bubble

Try not to spend time indoors with other people.

When it comes to shopping, doctor’s visits and so on where you have to be indoors with others, keep the Time together as brief as possible. For a I-need-social-contact emergency, keep an indoor visit with friends short — 15 minutes is safer than 30 minutes. Keep the doors and windows open — air circulation helps to reduce potential risk of infection. 

And wear a mask whenever possible.

Another Need-to-Know is that a negative COVID-19 test is not a “get out of jail free” card. Tests aren’t 100% reliable and are activity-dependent. I had a negative test in the summer but what if I’d gone to a busy bar to celebrate? That would make my negative test meaningless. 

Open doesn’t mean safe

And another Need-to-Know is that just because a bar, restaurant, gym or school is open doesn’t mean it’s perfectly safe to go inside. Even with all the right precautions — masks, hand-washing, distancing — being indoors with other people is still a very risky business. Decisions about opening up are trade-offs between helping businesses and higher infection rates. Most medical experts favour keeping these places closed until caseloads (infection rates) are far lower. 

Of course all this sucks. Really sucks

The good news is we only have to use the Covid Risk Reduction Mantra for a few more months. At least two new vaccines will be available early in 2021. With any luck we’ll all be vaccinated by next summer. (Could be some issues around this but let’s not go there right now.)

So how do you and I get through the next few months? 

Stay positive. The 2020 nightmare will end and we’ll have stories to tell, hopefully many more humorous than tragic

Practice and preach the Covid Risk Reduction Mantra. It incorporates best advice I’ve seen. 

A previous Need to Know issue, A Survival Guide for a Dark Winter, included a bunch of survival tips for the next few months. Here’s a summary:  

  • Control exposure to depressing pandemic reports, political shenanigans, crime reports and other depressing/scary information. 'Your mind is like tofu; it tastes like whatever you marinate it in.’— Robert Waldinger

  • Go for walks no matter the weather

  • Go for walk and talks with family members or friends 

  • Learn new stuff. Books, seminars, courses, lectures, hobbies

  • Humour. Seek it out where ever you can find it

  • Connect with friends and classmates 

  • Get extra sleep

  • Have a routine

There isn’t any one thing that will help us get through the next few months. That’s another Need-to-Know. Coping with stress and anxiety is like strengthening an aging muscle. Only a variety of gentle and safe activities will keep us strong without tearing us apart. So try to be gentle with yourself and others.

Until next time, stay safe.


Share Need to Know by Stephen Leahy