Consider a ‘pandemic pod’ as seasons change

As the seasons shift, the temperature drops and the days get shorter. Outdoor activities are harder to come by as the cool air and decreased sunlight cause people to drift indoors, according to news from Indiana University.

That’s an expected part of the calendar this time of the year for most of us, but it could be more problematic now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CDC says that wearing masks, keeping 6 feet of space between people and being outdoors all reduce the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. Outdoor activities are safer because of better ventilation and an increased ability to keep distance from others. The virus spreads more easily indoors, which makes health officials nervous about the chillier weather and holidays that cause people to frequently congregate inside.

An option some people could consider is creating a “pandemic pod” with family and/or friends. A pandemic pod is a small group of people or families who limit their non-physically distanced social interactions to each other. These self-contained networks allow for socializing and gathering together with other people who collectively follow a set of health and safety measures.

For anyone considering a pod, there are questions to ask among the group such as:

  • Does and will everyone wear masks diligently?
  • Are other gatherings outside of the pod allowed?
  • Is everyone maintaining physical distancing and mask-wearing when at work or running errands?
  • Is anyone more likely to be exposed because of their work situation?

“The pod you establish should have agreed-upon standards and practices among the small group,” said Graham McKeen, assistant university director of public and environmental health for IU Environmental Health and Safety. “Make sure in advance that the group is on the same page with health and safety measures and behaviors.”

Because the virus allows for individuals to be infected and transmit it without exhibiting symptoms, a pod is not an invitation to completely disregard health guidelines and recommendations. McKeen said it’s important to be mindful about close contact, which is being within 6 feet of someone for at least 15 minutes, regardless of the use of a face mask. While the situation might be hard for kids at times, adults should take responsibility and set an example of maintaining physical distancing while monitoring the duration of possible exposure.

“It’s critical to attempt to meet that criterion for a close contact,” McKeen said.

Individuals should evaluate their comfort level with different circumstances while respecting health and safety practices to create a pod that suits them

In the unfortunate case of someone within a pod contracting COVID-19, the limited exposure to a small number of people should make it easier to contain and respond appropriately compared to an individual who has not practiced physical distancing or worn masks when around others.

“Pods are of course not impervious from communicable disease, but they can reduce your risk if everyone in it practices those healthful behaviors,” McKeen said. “The smaller the group, the better.”