Does meeting in small groups reduce the spread of COVID-19?

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Anastasia Yurgel

Members of an agreed-upon social bubble do not need to social distance or wear masks if they are meeting outdoors.

Belief: I will not become infected with COVID-19 if I meet with people in small groups.

Reality: While meeting with small groups of people can help reduce the spread of COVID-19, it is crucial to limit the duration of gatherings, maintain social distancing, and meet with an agreed-upon group to lower the risk of infection.

The San Mateo County Department of Public Health issued its most recent COVID-19 safety guidelines for gatherings in its June 17 health order. In this order, Dr. Scott Morrow, the San Mateo County Health Officer, discourages meeting in groups of any size “because they carry significant risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 increases as individuals interact with more people and for a longer amount of time.

It is best to avoid gatherings where social distancing might be difficult because “COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact [within about 6 feet] for a prolonged period.” Wearing masks is especially important when individuals cannot maintain social distancing.

At the same time, Morrow outlines how people can meet specific people in small groups. Groups of 12 people or fewer from different households can arrange to socialize only with their group members, forming a social bubble.

For social bubbles to be effective, people can only be members of one social bubble at a time. While the order recommends it, members of a social bubble do not need to follow social distancing or masking requirements if they meet outdoors.

Finally, people sick with a fever, cough, or other COVID-19 symptoms must avoid all social interactions. The CDC reminds people that individuals without symptoms may still be infected and can spread COVID-19.

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