Provincial health officials will not recommend households expand their social circle to include one other family unit as part of the Manitoba government’s plan to reopen the province.

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Provincial health officials will not recommend households expand their social circle to include one other family unit as part of the Manitoba government’s plan to reopen the province.

Since mid-March, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin has advised Manitobans to refrain from visiting friends and family members living in separate households to reduce the risk of exposure and spread of the novel coronavirus.

As part of its phased plan to reopen the economy, New Brunswick public health officials have agreed to allow household units — considered to be a single individual, roommates or family — to establish an exclusive social circle with one other household unit.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs called the plan a "two-family bubble" last week, and said the possibility exists for people to add other household units to their bubbles, if transmissions remains low. As of Tuesday, New Brunswick had 118 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and no recorded deaths.

Roussin said the bubble approach will not form part of Manitoba’s strategy to reopen the provincial economy, which will be released Wednesday, as it increases the number of contacts between individuals.

Manitoba currently has a R0 (R-naught) value — the metric that indicates how many new cases come from each infected person — below one. Roussin previously said the R0 value should be at or below one before public health orders could be relaxed.

"One of the biggest factors that’s in there is the average number of contacts in a case," Roussin said. "And so when we can limit that, we decrease the R value.

"Certainly, our strategy revolves around the gradual loosening of physical distancing in some ways or another," he said. "Physical distancing is going to be a huge component going forward. We’re going to need to deal with that in one shape or another for the foreseeable future."

While physical distancing and strict isolation continue to be effective in reducing the potential for outbreaks, these efforts can cause other significant stresses on society, said University of British Columbia infectious disease researcher Dr. Richard Lester.

A slight expansion in a person’s social circle can still allow for effective containment of the virus while supporting people in their self-isolation efforts, Lester said Tuesday.

"The bubble effect can work for some because it allows some interaction between different households. It may actually be safer for some people and make social distancing within that unit easier in some cases; in others, it could cause risk."

In cases where two separate households rely on each other to provide care for children or seniors, or in cases where social contact contributes to the health of an individual, a bubble system could lessen poor outcomes brought on by isolation — deterioration in mental or physical health for example — while making transmission easier to manage, Lester said.

"I think we have to do anything we do carefully, because we still don’t have absolute evidence behind the best strategies of reopening," he noted. "If we’re too strict, it has a lot of other consequences, and if we open them too quickly, too lax, then of course the epidemic can gain hold."

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
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Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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