covid bubble

How Big is Your COVID-19 Bubble?

covid bubbleYour “bubble” might be far bigger than you think.

To figure out exactly how big your circle is, and who you might be sharing germs with, think like a contact tracer and sketch out your contact network. You might need to pull out a piece of paper to figure this out, because this may include more people than you think.

First, list the people you had close contact in the last 10 days–your first-degree contacts. That includes the people you live with and anyone else you spent a lot of indoor time with. Include babysitters, co-workers, clients, neighbors, and anyone else you spend face-to-face time with.

There is not a hard and fast cutoff for what “a lot” means here, but we can lean on the CDC definition of exposure: count everyone with whom you spent more than 15 minutes in the same room, whether masks were worn or not.

Now for each of these people, list everyone *they* were exposed to. For example, include the other 5 kids in your child’s learning pod plus whatever adult(s) were helping with their learning; or everyone in their classroom. If you see clients in-person, that’s all your clients’ household members. These are your second-degree contacts. You might end up listing some ???’s if you don’t know precisely who all those people are.

Now for each of your second-degree contacts, list everyone *they* have exposure to. That’s everyone in your child’s classmate’s soccer class, your yoga teacher’s roommate’s girlfriend, your neighbors husbands drinking buddies, and all your spouse’s clients’ families. Wow! This list can grow very large very quickly.

It’s easy to think that our “bubble” stops at first- or second-degree contacts. We have a tendency to think that the people we know and love couldn’t or wouldn’t give us COVID, or wouldn’t put us at risk. After all, we love them and trust them. This error is called the halo effect: when we have a positive opinion of someone in one area, we tend to have a positive opinion of them in another, unrelated area, even if that is unwarranted.

In this case, we like and trust our friends to be good friends, but that DOES NOT mean they are exempt from COVID-19 transmission facts! We can give the people we love COVID even though we like and trust them. It happens without us even knowing! The insidious thing about COVID, and part of what has made it so hard to control, is that most transmission happens *before* we know we are sick.

So, we have to include first, second, and third-degree contacts when we think about our exposures. If you have tried to map out your network using this exercise and you’ve had to get out a piece of paper, or fill in a bunch of question marks, your network is large and you can’t properly call it a “bubble.” Perhaps using the word germosphere will give you a more realistic picture of your exposures.

Now is the time to ramp up efforts to wear masks, social distance, and protect family members, especially those with vulnerabilities like age, obesity, diabetes or heart disease, from exposure.

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