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Are there safe ways to spend time with friends during the pandemic?

To answer this question, health experts have been looking at one method, called a COVID-19 “support bubble.” They found that forming such a group — or bubble — with a few close friends can be safe.

Support bubbles are also known as “quarantine pods.” Experts claim these groups may help to fight off loneliness and fear after months of social distancing.

United States health officials define social distancing as keeping space between yourself and people from outside your home. With social distancing, people should stay at least two meters, or about two arms’ length, from other people.

The Associated Press reports that the idea for support bubbles started in New Zealand. It calls for two people or families to agree to socialize in person only with each other. The numbers are kept small to limit the risk of infection.

Experts give this warning: Do not try forming a support bubble unless everyone agrees to follow social distancing rules while away from the support bubble ’s members.

One of those experts is Aaron Milstone, a doctor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He used a swimming pool for a comparison.

“You are now swimming in the same pool with not just that person,” he said, “but all the people those people are interacting with.”

As many places begin to re-open, support bubbles are already becoming more popular in the U.S. and other countries.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this month that adults living alone, or single parents, can form support bubbles with another household.

Members of a support bubble can meet, inside buildings or in outdoor, open spaces – without staying two meters apart. They can also stay overnight in each other’s homes as if they were members of the same household.

The British government website notes a few other rules. Support bubbles must be exclusive. You should not change who is in your bubble or have close contact with anyone you do not live with. Also, if you or someone in your support bubble is showing signs of the coronavirus, or is living in self-quarantine, everyone in your bubble should stay home.

It is too soon to say whether support bubbles will work with larger numbers of people. But a recent study showed that bubbles with more limited contacts worked better to flatten the curve of infection compared with other methods. One such method is limiting contacts to your own neighborhood.

Per Block of Britain’s Oxford University is one of the writers of a report on the study.

He says there is no guarantee of “complete safety” when people have “face-to-face contact with others outside their household.”

But he added that limiting interactions to one other family presents a much smaller risk than going back to traditional methods of socializing.

The Associated Press reported this story. Anna Matteo adapted the report for VOA Learning English using additional information from the British government. The editor was George Grow.