The Effectiveness of a ‘Bubble’ During a Pandemic: Major Sports, Your Home, and at Camp
by Matthew Caflun
With the widespread transmission of the coronavirus around the world, it’s hard to imagine a really safe way to leave your home and do the things we enjoy. With all of the uncertainty of catching the virus in public, we’ve seen some companies switch to a stay at home model and some schools have all students learning online. Throughout the pandemic we still need to have a sense of normalcy to keep our spirits high.
Creative solutions have to be made to maintain distance in ordinary situations, like with recess at school or sharing a grocery store aisle with a stranger. Taping the floor to indicate where to stand, or having children hold 6-foot long pool noodles to show how far apart they are from others, are just small examples.
On a larger scale, how do you bring together hundreds of people to one place during the Coronavirus pandemic? There have been successful attempts this year in the National Basketball Association and at the National Hockey League playoffs in which both sports were played in a bubble. Some summer camps, including Camp Wekeela, took on the Herculean task of opening this summer by also operating as a bubble and found great success.
What is a Bubble?
Bubbles during the pandemic are areas that function with a group of people who have very limited and controlled contact for the duration of its planned existence. Some limited contact would include food deliveries, mail deliveries and any sort of maintenance or service that requires visitors. These visitors must wear PPE for the duration of their visit and not come within a minimum of 6 feet from anyone living in the bubble. Their visit is planned to be as low risk as possible so that there isn’t any form of contact with those living within the bubble.
How does a bubble work?
A bubble environment is achieved with stringent guidelines, such as :
- The inhabitants cannot leave the bubble.
- Tests are required at specific points of time to mitigate the risk.
- Testing is required before travelling to the bubble.
- Testing is required upon arrival.
- Testing is required 3-5 days after arrival.
- Testing should be done before one leaves the bubble. This is not necessary if everyone in the bubble has tested negative multiple times and the bubble remained in place. (this was the 2020 policy of Camp Wekeela, unless someone was symptomatic or expressed a desire to test).
- Masking is required until each individual has had two negative tests within a 10 day period of arrival.
When arriving at the bubble, people are sorted into living spaces and assigned to what is called a “household.” This group travels together and masks when exposed to other households. After the testing takes place and all residents of the bubble are negative (10 days is sufficient), masks are no longer necessary, since the bubble has now achieved a household that consists of all members free from COVID.
-1-3 Before arriving
-When you arrive
– 3-5 days into arriving
– Prior to departure
This process is the best practice according to the Center for Disease Control. By testing as close to the day of departure as possible, people will know they’re not carrying the virus home. This also helps to contact trace in case someone eventually tests positive when they arrive home, since it would indicate that they didn’t bring it from their origin, rather on the trip home itself.
During the summer the NHL held its playoffs in 2 different “bubbles” in Canada. They chose a lower risk destination (Toronto and Edmonton) and players stayed with their respective teammates in hotels for their entire playoff run. The teams didn’t begin play until their testing rounds concluded, and it was safe to begin. Out of 7,703 tests in the bubble, there were zero positive cases. This is a testament to the process of establishing a bubble, since they had tested previously while at training camps. There were 2 positive cases out of 6,874 in the testing before they departed for the bubbles, and if they didn’t test, those 2 cases could have been a major super spreader in the bubble.
Similar to the NHL, NBA teams didn’t begin play and intermingling of households until all tests were negative and completed. The NBA played at an isolated and curated venue at Disney World in Orlando, Florida with tremendous success in these conditions. Although the length of time in the bubble led to players missing their families and isolation, the efforts of commissioner Adam Silver to establish a bubble, ensured safety and a completed playoff competition. The WNBA had a similar bubble in Bradenton, FL that yielded the same results and the completion of the season.
Despite this success and after an initial outbreak amongst several teams during the non-bubble regular season, the MLB attempted to create a postseason bubble in Arlington, Texas that posed risk. The MLB functioned under a partially masked, partially unmasked affair in their World Series contest. In Texas, some players or staff tested positive and were removed from playing, but even in the final game, Dodgers 3rd Baseman Justin Turner’s results came back positive after the game had started. He was pulled from the game, only to return to the field to celebrate with his teammates, unmasked. Thankfully, he hadn’t created an outbreak, but without a bubble, this is prone to happen.
Currently, the NFL, NCAA, and other sports leagues are not operating in a bubble setting and have seen multiple outbreaks, cancellations, and huge losses in revenue.
How can this practice be translated into seeing family during the holiday time?
The Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives this year and it continues through the holidays. With record numbers, if you can avoid traveling during this holiday season please do so. If you must, you can apply the concepts of the quarantine bubble to wherever you visit. If you’re leaving college to go home, for example:
- Before leaving you should get tested for COVID-19.
- Upon arrival at your home, encourage all members to get tested.
- Spread out while in your house for a minimum of 3 days to ensure that everyone is negative.
- Avoid any contact with members outside your immediate family and if you are to interact with others, always wear a mask.
- After the holidays, follow state and local guidelines to quarantine, test, and keep others safe.
We know that this has been a difficult time, but if we all learn from the successes and failures of sports leagues, summer camps, and schools, we will keep each other safe.