Those at biggest risk of getting seriously ill from the Corona-virus are asked to stay at home and to go into total social isolation. However, being isolated and alone is a serious burden for their psychological and social well being. We have to find ways to overcome this because it is likely that we have to wait many months until it is safe for at risk people to resume a mostly normal life.
How can we improve the quality of life of these people and reduce isolation-associated psychological stress? Is there a smarter way to protect those at risk than to just ask them to stay at home? My suggestion is to promote the creation of closed and non-overlapping social groups, and to support these groups while they stay together in isolation.
What are closed social groups?
Closed, non-overlapping social groups as I would like to define them are…
- A social group of of 5 to 10 people who would like to meet with each other regularly in different constellations, from one to one to all together, as they please.
- Non-overlapping means that they can be only in one social group.
- All need to be free of COVID19-symptoms and tested negative if in doubt.
- All need to have been in self-isolation for at least 14 days to exclude that they may be non-symptomatic COVID-19 cases.
- Ideally these people live nearby to avoid the need to travel.
Thus, these people will behave as if they were a single household in lockdown mode. An example for a closed social group would be neighbours that are all retired or otherwise not able to work, and thus without any obligations to leave their homes to meet other people. They can meet in person for tea and biscuits, arrange joint dinners and play cards as if corona did not exist. The only difference to before will be that they cannot meet neither their families nor anybody else outside the group in person and that they have to follow very strict hygiene rules when going out for grocery shopping or for seeing the doctors.
The key benefit of forming small groups is that we minimize the spread of the disease to too many people at once should one of the group members still get the virus. By asking for being in one social group only, we minimize the risk that the virus can spread via the overlapping members, should one group get infected.
An added benefit of forming small closed groups will be that they can help each other not just to escape from social isolation but also with daily issues such as minor repairs, fixing issues with the computer, and more.
How can we support these groups?
- Authorities should encourage the formation of such groups and issue guidance for staying healthy as a group, including what hygiene measures to follow (masks when going into public, refined guidance on washing hands, inform about the best times to go shopping, etc.), how to organise help from outside the group, and to have a hotline for all type of questions such groups may have.
- Authorities can also help by explicitly assigning COVID-19 tests to facilitate that at risk patients can join a closed social group in their neighbourhood (or change to another group).
- Families and friends that already now support individual risk patients by shopping and dropping off deliveries at the door-step can extend their help to other members of the group who have nobody who looks after them.
- Finally, online shops should have a priority queue for all at risk patients (not just closed social groups).