What to Consider Before You Try ‘Quaranteaming’

  • As shelter-in-place orders continue in many states, some people are giving up their isolation to join a “quaranteam.”
  • A quaranteam is a bubble of people who create their own tight-knit social circle that doesn’t interact with others outside their group.
  • Experts say being able to again connect with someone close does offer mental health benefits, which could be really beneficial after being without human contact for a long period of time.
  • However, they also say it increases the risk of you or members of your team contracting the new coronavirus and spreading it to others in your social circle.

For many of us, the hardest part of sheltering at home has been isolation, especially if you live alone.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 35.7 million single-person households in 2018, or nearly 30 percent. Considering the number of states that have shelter-in-place orders, that’s a lot of people by themselves for weeks and even months on end.

Without being able to go on normal social outings, even just going to a restaurant for a meal with a friend, many people are feeling depressed and anxious over the new coronavirus.

To combat loneliness, many people have chosen to bring in a new member of the family, namely by fostering and adopting pets at record numbers.

Others have decided to join a “quaranteam,” or a bubble of people who create their own tight-knit social circles.

Some forms of quaranteaming include families who want their children to be able to interact in person and friends who merely want to start socializing with one another again after months of being apart.

No matter how you’re thinking about quaranteaming, it does involve ignoring guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that recommend people who don’t live together practice safe physical distancing, such as remaining 6 feet (2 meters) apart from one another.

Ignoring those guidelines can have some unintended consequences, including giving the new coronavirus more opportunities to spread through physical interactions as well as more hands touching more shared surfaces.

Those risks are further compounded if one person of your quaranteam leaves the house more often, such as for work or social gatherings.

And there’s one major point of the new coronavirus that makes it so hard to track: Asymptomatic people can still spread the virus, meaning those who carry it may not know it. That means someone on your quaranteam could unknowingly infect the whole household.

But being able to again connect with someone close does offer mental health benefits, which could be really beneficial after being without human contact for a long period of time.

Thomas Plante, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and adjunct clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.

“People certainly have a need to engage with others socially, and the pandemic makes this a big challenge, especially for those who may live alone or are isolated with people they don’t like or connect with, e.g., roommates, toxic family members,” Plante told Healthline. “The question is: How can you connect in a way that is safe and secure with people of good will?”

The mental health benefits of being together

For most people who continue to shelter in place solo, videoconferencing and even a simple phone call has remained a lifeline to the outside world, whether for work or social occasions, like birthdays or even happy hours. Many churches are now holding services online, too.

For others, that’s just not enough. They need someone physically present for daily interactions, conversation, and everything else.

Adina Mahalli, a certified mental health consultant and relationship expert with Maple Holistics, says that’s because humans are wired for connection — real, human touch — not just online communication.

“When you don’t have human interaction, it can take a toll on your mental health,” she said. “You can start to develop feelings of depression, isolation, and anxiety that you might not experience to such a degree if you were with other people. With this in mind, quaranteaming can be a great idea for anyone who does so with the right precautions.”

Those precautions include understanding that you’re moving in together for the rest of lockdown, not just for a weekend sleepover.

And before doing so, there needs to be a consideration of risk assessment before people move in together, namely if either have any lingering health problems.

“With this in mind, it’s ideal for you all to quarantine for 2 weeks alone beforehand to ensure minimum exposure for everyone who is coming together,” Mahalli said.

“It’s also important to take into consideration those who may be at a higher risk. It is risky to assume that you are all healthy and immediately move in together if you haven’t isolated prior to quaranteaming,” she said.

That also goes for people who will still live apart, but will keep their contacts with friends to a small social bubble with the understanding that everyone is still taking standard precautions, like routine handwashing and avoiding large groups of people.

Viktor Sander, a counselor at SocialPro who specializes in interpersonal communication and relationships, says he has mixed feelings about quaranteaming.

“On one hand, it can be a slippery slope that makes people take quarantine less seriously. And it also does increase the risk of you contracting the disease and spreading it to others, unless you’re truly isolating together, which I doubt many of these quaranteams are truly doing,” he said.

On the other hand, Sander says, loneliness is a grave health risk that research suggests can be as detrimental as smoking, obesity, or being physically inactive.

“If quaranteaming is done in a controlled and thoughtful manner, it could be a positive new social development to help ease the worst effects of the lockdown,” he said.

One of those controls could be having everyone in the house tested before groups get together, but there continues to be an ongoing shortage of accurate tests for people who are showing symptoms.

Dr. Dimitar Marinov, an assistant professor in the hygiene and epidemiology department of the Medical University of Varna in Bulgaria, says the new coronavirus’s ability to spread from asymptomatic people only makes it more difficult to contain while quaranteaming.

“If you accidentally get infected — while going out for essentials, for example — you will spread to everyone in the household before you realize you are sick,” he said. “The incubation period of COVID-19 is 5 days, on average.”

Then there’s the issue of those who have confirmed infections and are now producing antibodies. While that’s usually a good sign, it’s not yet a guarantee of safety when it comes to the new coronavirus.

“Even if some of the people quaranteaming already had COVID-19 and recovered completely, scientists are still not sure whether you can or cannot catch it twice,” Marinov said. “Also, immune responses vary significantly between different individuals.”

That means just because one person doesn’t have an adverse reaction to the new coronavirus, it doesn’t mean their quaranteammate won’t as well.

That’s something to consider, too.

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