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A guide to COVID-19 social circles and Ontario guidelines on physical distancing

“Hugs are officially making a comeback — with restrictions.

Ontario’s public health advice has evolved, allowing for “social circles” that permit people to come into direct contact with — yes, actually touch — a small group of predetermined family members or friends.

The province has also given the green light to social gatherings of up to 10 people.

So, what’s the difference?

In simple terms, it’s how close you can get.

Social circles are the same as what’s become known elsewhere as social bubbles.

“A social circle is made up of families and friends that you can interact with, without the need for physical distancing,” Minister of Health Christine Elliott explained.

They’re designed to help people deal with day-to-day life, including providing child care options and fighting feelings of isolation.

I’d like to start or join a circle. What are the rules?

Social circles can include no more than 10 people.

The people in them can be any age and what they do outside the bubble, such as frontline healthcare, doesn’t impact whether that person can join a bubble.

People can still see others outside of their bubble, but that interaction must be at a distance of at least two metres.

Combining with another household does carry some risks, not to mention a lot of trust that the people around you will uphold their end of the bargain, said Susan Bondy, an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“The success of that will depend on the degree to which everybody else agrees to also minimize contact with the outside world.“

Why is the size of my circle important?

There is no magic number for staying safe, Bondy said.

But smaller numbers make it more likely you’ll avoid a “super-spreader event,” which is responsible for many people contracting COVID-19, she said.

Those looking to join a social circle should have open conversations about expectations from everyone within it, while being respectful that some might not want to join up, Bondy said.

 

“Nobody should feel pressured to accept risk they don’t want or to agree to terms that will be difficult to follow,” she added. “If someone says no, please don’t pressure or force, as this might lead to conflict and also to non-compliance that you don’t know about.”

“If you double up with a family and they’re breaking the rules or if a family wants to double up with you but you’ve got a senior (who doesn’t) want to — maintain the right to say no. Go into it with a full, conscious conversation and have an exit clause.”

The Ontario government has laid out five steps to creating safe circles.

-Start with your current circle, such as the people who would regularly come to your household.

-If your current circle is less than 10, you can now add members of another circle, family, or friends.

-Everyone should agree that they will join the circle.

-Physical distance should be maintained for anyone outside of your circle.

-No one should be part of more than one circle.”