Tired of quarantining alone or with estranged family members, some people are choosing to "quaranteam."
It may sound like the premise for a Netflix reality show, but it's a decision that's actually happening.
A "quaranteam" is a select group of people who have decided to hunker down and ride out the pandemic together in one place. The phrase quaranteam officially has an Urban Dictionary definition (created in March 2020) and #quaranteam has almost 95,000 tagged posts on Instagram. A Tik Tok page for one "Quarantine Crew" that used to include Bachelorette star Hannah Brown has over 560,000 followers.
You can't choose your family, but you can choose your "quaranteam."
More and more people are tempted to do so, says Josh Snodgrass, a professor of anthropology who studies infectious diseases at the University of Oregon.
"I’m not at all surprised people are looking for solutions now," Snodgrass tells Inverse. "This situation is getting old."
Inverse spoke to four experts about the concept of quaranteaming, and whether you can do it safely. Ultimately, they agreed on five points.
- Quaranteaming is not risk-free.
- Your group must make rules and adhere to them. This can only be done with extremely high levels of trust.
- This situation is probably going to last longer than you think.
- Smaller groups are better.
- The urge to "quaranteam" is natural.
Quaranteaming is not a way to get around social distancing, nor is it even a version of normality, experts say. You are signing up to live in a strictly governed social experiment that will require a huge amount of responsibility and trust.
Is it too late to quaranteam? — Ideally, your chosen group has been quarantining together since the beginning of the outbreak.
That said, it's not too late to consider quaranteaming now — assuming that you "absolutely need a different situation," Snodgrass says. In that case, you have to proceed in the least risky way possible.
What are the risks of quaranteaming?
Quaranteaming is all about assuming some degree of risk. Those risks are not the same for everybody.
The CDC notes that people who are immunocompromised, are older, or have underlying health conditions are the most at-risk of severe Covid-19 cases. Younger healthy people tend to get milder infections, but not always.
"Quaranteaming is safer than randomly associating with people but it’s not something that’s without risks," Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, says.
Contact with anyone else is an opportunity for the virus to spread, Adalja cautions. And in the absence of testing, we don't always know who has the virus and who doesn't.
CDC director Robert Redfield estimated that about 25 percent of coronavirus cases are asymptomatic. Meanwhile, some people who develop symptoms may not show signs of being sick for between three and eleven days after infection, one CDC report found.
Between the absence of testing, and risk of asymptomatic transmission, you're operating with one big, very important unknown when you decide to form a "quaranteam" – whether someone has the virus and doesn't know it.
Have a conversation before you quaranteam – Considering the risks, the most important thing to do before choosing to quaranteam is to establish trust with the people who you want to shack up with.
This requires intensely honest, even awkward, conversations about what everyone has been up to.
William Schaffner a professor of preventative medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, explains that you need to know whether or not someone has been practicing social distancing before they've entered your pod. Likewise, you need to be honest about whether you've met those standards too.
"We’re already starting with people you are getting out to the edge of what you’re supposed to do," Schaffner tells Inverse. "You wonder if maybe they’ve done other things that are outside the envelope."
The more people you include in your pod, the harder that bar is to hit. Smaller groups are safer, explains Patrick Kachur, a professor of family and population health at Columbia University Medical Center.
There's no exact number to cap your team at, but the more people you let into the orbit, the greater the risks are before you move in, Kachur says. Importantly, the risk of infection doesn't end after you make the decision to be together during the pandemic.
"Think about adults who are traveling out of the house for work or shopping or other things," Kachur tells Inverse. "The greater the number, the more opportunities there are that one person would bring the infection into the shared living space."
You're in this for the long haul – Once in the quaranteam pod, you will have to adhere to a golden rule: You can't see anybody else. This is an extremely difficult rule to enforce, especially as quarantine drags on. It's essentially why people consider quaranteaming in the first place.
Even if eschewing others feels doable right now, remember that this virus isn't going anywhere.
You will have to follow this rule for the duration of lockdown, and, perhaps, even until we have a vaccine, Adalja says. That means you'll have to agree to the rule before you have a sense of when this situation will end.
You will have to try to stick to your quaranteam even if drama happens, or if you inevitably realize that it might not be as fun as you thought (unless of course, the situation because truly unsafe). There are some ways out, Kachur says, but they're limited and increase the risk of becoming sick — both for yourself and for others. If you make the decision to quaranteam, you only get one shot.
"I suppose if you had a falling out you could always return to your individual solitary home if that was still available to you," Kachur says. "It would be riskier to constitute another group."
Why do we want to quaranteam? – Social distancing can feel radically different for people depending on their situation. If you are isolated in a small space, it may feel unsustainable. That unsustainability might be especially true if your living situation is unsafe or if you are struggling with mental health issues, says Snodgrass.
"While the goal is to have households socially distanced and people only be with other members of their household, this can be really hard. We shouldn’t think someone is weak if they struggle with this — with isolation, with loneliness," Snodgrass says. "It’s actually really natural."
To that end, he echoes the idea that quaranteaming can be done safely — but that quaranteaming within your existing household is ideal. You can choose who constitutes that household, adds Kachur, as long as those people are all in the same place.
"We talk about the family unit, but in many instances that doesn’t need to mean biological or nuclear family," he says.
The only non-negotiable is that members discuss how they will minimize risks of exposing everyone to the virus and agree to stick this out long-term.
To quaranteam is to choose to live with people — not to choose certain people you feel comfortable visiting, while you live somewhere else.
"We shouldn’t think someone is weak if they struggle with this."
When you decide to quaranteam, you put your health into the hands of a small group of people. Likewise, you take responsibility for them — and the strangers you might encounter in public spaces like the grocery store. While you may not develop symptoms if a quaranteam member breaks the rule and brings Covid-19 home, you can still pass it on others.
You're also deciding to shoulder that responsibility for an indefinite period of time. As your group considers this, you may have to be open to the idea that your chosen team just can't shoulder that responsibility
If your group can quaranteam safely, you may be able to fill a social void. But it's definitely not going to be just like old times.