NEWS

Will COVID-19 Social Pods Be Safe This Winter?

little boy wearing a mask bumping elbows with an older woman

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Key Takeaways

  • If you’re careful and take all the necessary precautions, social bubbles can be a great way to enjoy the benefits of socializing while protecting yourself and others from COVID-19.
  • It’s safer to meet people outdoors than indoors because it’s easier to maintain a physical distance. Also, research shows that the coronavirus is more likely to spread in lower humidity and with decreased ventilation. 
  • It may be more difficult to stay safe in your social bubble during the winter, but with careful planning and adherence to the official guidelines, you can still spend time with close friends.  


To stay connected to family and friends during the pandemic, which experts agree is important for mental health and well-being as well as comfort, support, and socialization, many people have created social bubbles or “pandemic pods”—small groups of people outside your household to interact with in person. But will that change during winter, when people are less likely to want to meet outdoors?

“Gatherings are likely even riskier during the winter because people are more likely to meet indoors, with less ventilation, than during the warmer months of the year,” says Richard Seidman, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of L.A. Care Health Plan in Los Angeles.

Is it Safe to Have Social Bubbles During Winter?

The truth is, pods are risky all year round because the more people you interact with, the higher your odds of becoming infected with COVID-19 are.

Since the early days of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised people to practice social distancing (also called physical distancing) to help reduce the spread of the virus. This involves staying at least six feet (about two arms’ length) away from people you don't live with, whether you’re indoors or outdoors.

Richard Seidman, MD, MPH

Gatherings are likely even riskier during the winter because people are to meet indoors, with less ventilation, than during the warmer months of the year.

— Richard Seidman, MD, MPH

All gatherings with people outside of your household, whether they’re part of your official pod or not, increase the risk of getting and transmitting the disease to others, Dr. Seidman says. So it’s important to be mindful of who you’re hanging out with, and carry out a quick risk assessment before including someone in your pod—have they been vigilant about mask wearing and social distancing?

And, of course, make sure you comply with local public health recommendations by keeping the number of households and individuals consistent and to a minimum, Dr. Seidman adds. 

How to Be Safe in a Pod

The general advice for winter COVID pods is the same as all times of year: hand washing, social distancing, and mask wearing. Beyond that, check your local health department guidelines. Many states and counties continue to advise against hosting or attending a gathering but provide tips for how to stay safe if you do intend to meet up with people from outside your household. For instance, New York City health officials suggest only including people in your social pod who you know are careful about using a face covering. 

Experts also recommend setting some ground rules for your bubble. “Like all exclusive circles, a COVID bubble or pandemic pod has privileges that come with trusted rules,” says Carol A. Winner, MPH, who founded the Give Space personal distancing movement in 2017. These privileges vary depending on the circumstances of the pod members—they may be solely for socialization or include childcare or homeschooling. 

Carol Winner, MPH

Lower humidity may enable the virus to live longer indoors and break it down into smaller viral droplets, which can linger longer in the air.

— Carol Winner, MPH

“These can be hugely beneficial, and if everyone abides, engagement within the bubble can be safe without the concern of constant mask wearing or social distancing,” Winner says. “But ideally, you’ll want to agree to safety factors such as quarantining if a member gets infected, limiting errands to essential ones, and mask wearing and social distancing at all times in public.”

You should also be prepared for some potentially awkward conversations, points out Dr. Seidman, and to be willing to step out of your bubble if someone has been exposed to COVID-19 or has broken the rules everybody agreed to at the outset.  

Considerations During Winter

The winter months naturally force us indoors, which can make social bubbles riskier. "Environmental factors such as indoor air quality, temperature, and humidity are all indicators that affect the virility of the COVID-19 virus, which affect the risk of individuals within your bubble," Winner says.

A review of respiratory virus research from Yale University, published in Annual Review of Virology, suggests the coronavirus likely survives longer in low humidity and cold, dry air, such as we find in winter.

"Lower humidity may enable the virus to live longer indoors and break it down into smaller viral droplets, which can linger longer in the air," Winner explains. And then there's the fact that when we stay inside during the winter months, we're in closer contact with others, which increases transmission.

Carol Winner, MPH

Science has repeatedly assured us that our greatest protection against this virus continues to be wearing a mask and social distancing. We have also learned... that we can reduce risk of transmission by opening windows and cracking doors to enhance ventilation within our home.

— Carol Winner, MPH

"We do have some control over these social and environmental factors that we can work to control to support our interest in maintaining our bubble or pod," Winner says.

"Science has repeatedly assured us that our greatest protection against this virus continues to be wearing a mask and social distancing. We have also learned from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that we can reduce risk of transmission by opening windows and cracking doors to enhance ventilation within our home," says Winner.

What This Means For You

If you feel comfortable to continue in your social bubble over winter, make sure you wear a mask and practice social distancing. Meet outdoors whenever possible, and open windows and doors if you gather indoors. Remember, everybody's circumstances are different.

If you're at a high risk of complications from COVID-19 due to age or a pre-existing health condition, it's important to take extra care when mixing with others. And don't feel guilty if you don't feel comfortable joining a social bubble—it's your health and your choice.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Social distancing. Updated November 17, 2020.

  2. NYC Health. COVID-19: Tips on getting together safely. Published November 13, 2020.

  3. Moriyama M, Hugentobler WJ, Iwasaki A. Seasonality of respiratory viral infections. Annu Rev Virol. 2020;7:83-101. doi:10.1146/annurev-virology-012420-022445