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State health officials: Alaskans may expand their social circles to a ‘trusted bubble’

People enjoy warm weather at Westchester Lagoon on Saturday, May 9, 2020 in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

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As the weeks and months of continued social distancing grind on, it might be beneficial for Alaskans to start inching open their social circles, state officials said Friday.

The state still mandates people stay at least six feet from people they do not live with, but "in some cases, if a stronger support network is needed, Alaskans may begin to expand their social circle to include just a few others,” the state’s health department said in a written statement.

The “expanded social bubble,” is a way to still see other people but keep things tight-knit, the department said.

One person or household may group up with another person or household, but that’s it. You have to keep things to the “trusted bubble,” health officials said.

“Once linked, the individuals within an expanded social bubble can visit each other’s homes, share meals, care for one another, help with home projects or go on recreational outings together,” the statement said.

Kids from the two different households in the extended bubble can play together, both inside and outdoors.

But once you start interacting with people outside of your core, predetermined group, you have to keep up all of the usual social distancing habits, like staying a minimum of six feet from others.

And you can’t keep adding new people to the bubble or swapping in others. It’s also important to keep the bubble small and make sure everyone is on the same page about health guidelines.

“Consistency is key,” the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said in the release. “Expanding your bubble, even to include just one or two others, is not something to be done lightly."

Swelling your social circle even slightly might have positive effects for mental health as well, said Mike Abbott, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.

"This adjustment, done correctly, could represent a great way to relieve stress and anxiety for Alaskans who have been feeling alone or isolated,” Abbott said in the release.

The state is encouraging people who are considering inflating their social bubbles to also think about their vulnerability to COVID-19.

“Those most at risk, such as those 65 or older or people with an ongoing health condition will need to be the most restrictive, keeping their bubbles as tight as possible,” the health department said.

And if someone in the “trusted bubble” does become sick, everyone else will have to quarantine.

The concept has been used in other countries like Canada and New Zealand, the state said. The state also released a sample of a sheet to log your daily interactions.

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