Winter is coming. Start building your coronavirus bubble now and get ready to socialise in the cold.

‘The Flag Project’, Rockefeller Centre’s public art initiative, showcasing New Yorkers’ love for their city, as it continued with a phased re-opening on August 3, 2020. Cindy Ord/Getty Images
  • Public health experts agree: winter with the coronavirus is going to be difficult.
  • You may want to build a “bubble” of a few close friends or family members, with whom you can share space indoors.
  • Just make sure “you don’t bubble with someone, who then bubbles with someone, who then bubbles with someone,” one public health expert said.
  • “Distancing and outdoor air are your best friends,” another added.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s going to be cold. It’s going to be dark. It’s going to be a time when we spend most of our waking hours indoors.

And it’s coming up fast.

Winter with the coronavirus approaches, and not even America’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has a solid plan.

“I don’t have any easy answers,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said, during our recent interview.

“What the heck is going to happen in the winter?”

With infection rates ticking up already in many states, the situation is not ideal.

“I hope not, but we very well might start seeing increases in deaths,” Fauci told ABC News earlier this week, lamenting the recent uptick in hospitalizations in some states. “You don’t want to be in a position like that as the weather starts getting cold.”

In order to survive this winter, when we will be forced into more of the closed, indoor confines where this virus spreads best, public health experts agree we need to start preparing now.

Below is our best-yet four point plan for how to survive the coming months. It includes information on how to build your wintertime “bubble” of close friends to hang out with indoors, when to get your flu shot, and how to spend time with others in relative safety.

Start thinking about each of these items before it’s too late.

Accept that things are not going to be normal this winter

Coronavirus new normal
A sign at a table in Rockefeller Centre Plaza during Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on September 7, 2020, in New York City. Noam Galai/Getty Images

Public health and infection prevention expert Saskia Popescu said one of the very first things to do to prepare for the months ahead is to stop asking yourself “when are things going to get back to normal again?”

“I really hate the term ‘when we get back to normal,’ because this kind of is our normal now,” Popescu told Insider. “The longer we try to resist that and be like ‘well, when are things going to get back to normal again?’ the harder it is.”

Popescu said it’s time to “lean into” the situation that we’ve gotten ourselves into in the US (with more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other country on the globe) and recognise that we all need to continue doing the most we can to beat this virus.

Avoid crowds, stop trading virus particles with the people you get close to (by wearing a mask), and limit time indoors with other people who aren’t a part of your household.

“It’s tough in the winter months, honestly,” she said.

But Popescu argues that one of the most dangerous ways to deal with the pandemic is to rebel against these simple public health measures. Instead, she says, the pandemic should be our wakeup call, both individually, and collectively.

“It has to drive behavioural change, but also what we demand in terms of prevention and response moving forward,” she said.

Assume the virus is always lurking nearby, or, perhaps that you have it

Face mask

At all times this year, assume that someone, somewhere nearby might have the virus.

Maybe that person is you, and you just don’t know it yet.

This is a simple, but prudent, virus-fighting strategy because people (not objects) are the greatest source of coronavirus spread. Often, it’s impossible to really know if you’re in the presence of the virus, because it transmits well before people start showing any signs of distress.

So, start getting comfortable with the idea that you’re not going to have any big holiday parties.

“We’ve always known from a public health perspective that really large events with tons of people, like packed concerts, conventions, are always high risk for infectious diseases, whether it’s foodborne or respiratory,” Popescu said. “For the most part, we’re not going to be able to go have large weddings, and concerts, and large venues, and Comicon, and all those things, really, until very late 2021, early 2022.”

Getting a flu shot by the end of October at the very latest will also help ease the burden of the pandemic on us this winter in two ways.

On a systemic level, more flu shots will prevent more cases of the flu nationwide, thereby reducing the strain those cases would then pile on the health system.

On an individual level, getting vaccinated against the flu will give you some additional peace of mind, because if you’re less likely to get sick with the flu this winter, you’re less likely to worry about whether or not your illness symptoms (fever, cough) are actually the coronavirus.

Build a bubble of people to help get you through this

Build your bubble

One other wintertime tool you might want to consider for your own mental health is the “bubble” approach to the pandemic.

A coronavirus bubble is a small group of people (or households) who band together and agree to collectively share time indoors together this winter, only with each other.

The strategy may not be for everyone, as it is not completely without risk. You’re essentially agreeing to partner with any exposure the people in your bubble may have to the virus in their daily life, by being in close contact with them on a regular basis.

Still, this pod-like approach can be effective at preventing disease transmission, when it is done well, because it reduces the number of people you may come in contact with socially.

“Whether it’s family or a close friend, I believe in the concept,” Popescu said. “The critical piece is that you don’t bubble with someone, who then bubbles with someone, who then bubbles with someone. That’s always my concern, it really needs to be someone that you trust.”

Popescu’s suggestion is to bubble only with people from one or two other households, at a maximum. Create an agreement among your fellow bubble buddies about how careful you’re going to be about the virus when you’re out in public, and bubble only with people you trust to keep to that pact, who are as vigilant about precautions like handwashing, mask-wearing, and distancing as you are.

“We know we need companionship,” Popescu said. “If you have a friend that will agree to bubble with just you, or maybe two friends, and the three of you will just bubble with each other, and that’s it — no other bubbling. That way you can spend time with the other two, or just one-on-one.”

Bundle up and get outside to socialise, even if it’s cold

Bundle up get outside
People ice skating on a river in the Dutch town of Oud Alblas, January 8, 2009. Anoek de Groot / AFP via Getty Images

You can still spend time with friends and family outside your bubble this winter, too. But the best way to do it is to stay far apart, in fresh, outdoor air.

Keep exercising caution all winter long, and opt for outdoor hangouts, standing at arm’s length (or more) from your friends, so you avoid any germs they might spew out.

To keep warm as the temperatures start to dip below freezing, the National Weather Service suggests layering loose, lightweight clothes, since the air that gets trapped between those layers of fabric acts as extra insulation.

As long as temperatures are above zero degrees Fahrenheit, it’s fine to spend some time socialising outside. Just remember to keep moving, and know that when the windchill drops below negative 18 Fahrenheit, frostbite can inch up fingers and toes in as little as half an hour, so it’s probably best to stay home and connect with others virtually on those days.

“I would still say distancing and outdoor air are your best friends,” Michael Osterholm, Director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, recently told Insider.