Social Bubbles: What the Latest Stay At Home Order Means For Parents

Heather asked me to explain the Social Bubbles and Youth Extracurricular Activity Units to her. This should be considered parent-to-parent discussion and not legal or health advice.

The most impactful news for 510 parents is that Contra Costa County and Alameda County both now allow for camps and daycare for all children, not just children of essential workers.

You may have heard by now that both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties have approved that residents may form “social bubbles” in groups of 12. At the same time, camps, preschools, recreational classes, and childcare may also operate in groups of twelve.

Read the specific orders here: Alameda County June 8 “social bubble” order (in English) or Contra Costa County Health Orders & Updates.

What Do Social Bubbles Mean for Families?

Ack. It really is so confusing. Both personal and “paid recreational” social bubbles are groups of people that must be consistent for three weeks, not interacting with others outside the bubble closer than Social Distancing rules require. After three weeks, people may regroup in new bubbles as long as they are healthy. There is no break required between bubble periods.

Childcare/camp bubbles are discrete from household bubbles. This means that if you send your child to camp or preschool, you don't have to forgo bubbling up with your family friends. Your child can be in both bubbles. In fact, each child in your household can be in both your family bubble and their own camp bubble, which means that the more children you have, the more contacts your family may have. Of course, it's up to you if you want to engage in that many connections.

What Do I Do about Social Bubbles?

COVID-19 Social Bubble | from Alameda County Health Care Services

Are you feeling like you are back in middle school, hoping to be welcomed to a spot at a lunch table? Finding a social bubble is not equally easy for everyone. We don't all have another family that matches ours in terms of playmates.

Some things stressed out parents should keep in mind about Social Bubbles:

You don't have to fill all 12 spots. Maybe you are a family of five and just want to bring your parents into your household. That works.

Bubbles get filled fast. Maybe only one child is desperate for her best friend. Even if you don't want to socialize with the best friend's parents, if it's best for your sanity, you may choose to let the friends reconnect. The math is that if the friend's household is also five people, now your bubble is 10. Any other people that anyone in either household wants to be connected to are considered mutual, part of the same bubble.

Psst. Maybe your ideal bubble adds up to 13. This doesn't mean you'll all get Coronavirus if you allow this configuration. Be sensible.

When in doubt, play outside

COVID-19 Risk Levels for various activities from low to high | from Alameda County Health Care Services

What can people in social bubbles do together?

Even people sharing social bubbles are only supposed to meet in outdoor settings.

How is this different than what we've been doing? If you have been a little casual with your reading of the health orders to date, you may not find this particular relaxing of rules of much interest.

For those who have stayed six feet apart from everyone who doesn't live with them, we understand that new activities can include:

  • sharing a picnic table or blanket with people in your bubble who are not in your house
  • children playing together outdoors as they did in the olden days (ie February 2020)
  • playing with shared equipment such as balls and frisbees with your bubble-mates and their children.
  • attending a public activity such as a farmer's market together

However, the final item in the June 8 Order states Members of a Social Bubble or Childcare or Youth Extracurricular Activity Unit are strongly encouraged to comply with Social Distancing Requirements and wear a  face-covering to the extent feasible.

This is the most confusing part of the order! How is it a bubble if you are staying 6 feet apart and wearing masks around the other members? I interpret this as a recommendation from the health department that we continue to minimize contact in every possible way and that “strongly encouraged” means that it is not against the rules.

Can children play together?! Yes! (source)

So, can you take a child from another household in your car? Not according to this Order.

Can we rent a vacation house together? Er, not really. Not only is non-essential travel still forbidden, but you're supposed to do your bubble socializing outdoors.

When will we see the next level of relaxing of social distancing rules? Expanding social bubbles further is listed on the next stage of reopening for Alameda County, however it is not based on a date, rather data about the spread of the virus and the available medical care, tests, supplies and contact tracing capabilities.

Why hasn't my child's dance studio or our favorite summer camp reopened? We're so ready! Businesses have to follow strict guidelines to accommodate reopening requirements. Please remember that your dear preschool director and beloved dance teacher are talented educators and fans of young children – they are not executives, health departments, or bureaucrats experienced with navigating these requirements and it may take them some time to ensure safety for their customers before they can announce their plans.

If only the guidelines were clearly drawn like these socially distant family bubbles for birthday party entertainment (nah!) | Photo: DJ RyanO

Heather asked me to explain the Social Bubbles and Youth Extracurricular Activity Units to her, this should be considered parent-to-parent discussion and not legal or health advice. Be safe, healthy, and appropriately socially distant.