You can spend time with loved ones. Here’s how, according to the experts

At the beginning of the pandemic, you were told to keep your distance from everyone who wasn’t in your immediate household. But six months have gone by, and as we carefully begin to open up our social circles the phrase “social pod” has emerged to describe a group of family or friends outside your household whom you see regularly. Is it safe to set up a social pod as the chillier months of fall and winter approach? And if so, how to set one up safely? Follow these 6 smart guidelines, according to the experts.

1. Start small

If a social pod makes you nervous, connect with one other family and see how it goes, suggests Catherine L. Troisi, PhD, associate professor in the Divisions of Management, Policy, and Community Epidemiology at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, TX. Have open conversations about how everyone’s feeling about socializing together, and how confident everyone is with controlling exposure to COVID-19 in their daily lives.

2. If you do form a pod, remember that it’s not a guaranteed safe space

Even if you’ve agreed to form a pod with people you trust, you’re still mixing via them with different families. And widening your circle in this way does increase your risk of contracting COVID-19, says Amesh Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security in Baltimore, MD. That risk doesn’t mean you should necessarily abandon pods and resign yourself to a winter in isolation, however: “There’s no reason to shame people who want to be with family and friends,” Adalja says. “Just use common sense when you’re getting together.”

Credit: vgajic/Getty Images

vgajic/Getty Images

3. Stick to outdoor socializing as much you can

Your ability to stay outside for gatherings may wane depending on what part of the country you live in; however, outdoors is still safer than indoors, says Dr. Adalja. Thank nature’s natural ventilation system. So, pile on the jackets and consider outdoor activities like coffee walks for socializing.

4. Develop and maintain ground rules

If do choose to socialize inside with your pod, staying six feet apart and wearing your mask will reduce risk the most, but some pods may choose not to do these things. Whether or not you do is a personal decision based on the group. Best to talk it through with each other and develop ground rules when you’re together, says Dr. Troisi. For example, if a family has recently traveled, they may want to mask up. Or, if the virus is prevalent (or on the rise) in your community, consider having everyone mask.

5. Don’t police your pod

While it’s important to talk about your expectations (are you going to stick with grocery delivery or in-person shopping? Is it okay if kids move from virtual to in-person learning during the year?), it’s a losing battle—and exhausting—to try to police the movement of everyone in the pod. Better to pod up with people who you trust are making safe and like-minded decisions.

6. If you feel sick, opt out

This should go without saying but make it the number one rule of your pod. Everyone will feel safer and more trusting if this is at the top of the rules list!