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Is it safe to form a COVID-19 'support bubble' with friends?

Experts say don't do it unless everyone agrees to follow social distancing guidelines while outside the bubble.

Is it safe to form a COVID-19 “support bubble” with friends?

Yes, if done correctly.

Support bubbles, also known as quarantine pods, may help fend off loneliness and anxiety after months of social distancing. The idea, which originated in New Zealand, calls for two people or households to agree to socialize in person only with each other to limit the risk of infection.

Experts say don't do it unless everyone agrees to follow social distancing guidelines while outside the bubble.

"You are now swimming in the same pool with not just that person, but all the people those people are interacting with," said Dr. Aaron Milstone at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Support bubbles are already catching on in the U.S. with reopenings underway. And earlier this month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that adults living alone or single parents can form support bubbles with another household. Members of a bubble can meet, indoors or out, without remaining two meters (6 ½ feet) apart.

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It's too soon to know whether the strategy will work on a broad scale. But a recent study indicated that bubbles with more limited contacts worked better to flatten the curve of infection compared with other strategies, such as limiting contact to one’s neighborhood.

“I don’t think we can promise people complete safety when they have face-to-face contact with others outside their household," said study co-author Per Block of Oxford University.

But he said limiting interactions to one other family poses a much smaller risk than resuming previous socializing habits.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.