If you are keeping up with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, you may have heard him hat-tip Canada on Monday night — taking note of the “double bubble” policy that is being introduced in many provinces across the country. The COVID-19 containment strategy (also popular in Britain, Germany, and New Zealand) is a way to allow for limited social interaction by expanding your household’s “bubble” while continuing to fight the coronavirus. But what is it exactly? How and why does it work? And who should I let into my bubble?
What is a double bubble? Does this mean I can finally see my friends?
Double bubble, a social bubble, a family pod, cohort family — whatever you call it, the idea is that, after two months of strict adherence to the #stayhome mantra, a double bubble allows for the combining of two households. The model facilitates social and physical contact, while still protecting against the dreaded community spread of coronavirus (which is still the cause of more than half the new cases in Ontario, btw).
The idea being that limiting the number of people you are in contact with reduces your chances of contracting COVID-19. Just as importantly, when new people do get sick (an inevitability as we move towards opening up our cities and provinces), tracing that person’s contacts will be a simple matter of asking: “Who’s in your bubble?”
In particular, social bubbles are a way to support Canadians experiencing mental-health issues due to the loneliness of isolation as well as parents who are desperate for help with childcare. But even if you fall into neither of those groups, a double bubble means some long-awaited social interactions.
Can you bubble with anyone or do they have to be in your family?
In provinces where bubbling is permitted (more on that in a sec), you can pick pretty much any person (or household) who is not in quarantine and who is not demonstrating symptoms (and therefore should be in quarantine). The key is that you only get to pick one other household and both individuals or groups must commit to keeping the bubble sealed.
What does that mean?
It means that if you are in a bubble with another family and you find out that one of those other people is sneaking out to see his girlfriend or going into an office on the regular, you are not actually in a bubble and are essentially in “contact” with anyone that your bubble-mate has interacted with.
What if I live with a roommate. Can we both pick someone to bubble up with?
A double bubble looks at households not individuals, meaning that in the case of two or more roomies, only one of you can extend your COVID-19 contact circle. (May we humbly suggest drawing straws?) On the other hand, the double bubble is great news for people who don’t live with their girlfriend or boyfriend or partner. (This just in: If the person you’re dating doesn’t want you as their double bubble — that’s a deal-breaker.)
How am I supposed to pick who’s in my bubble?
First and foremost you want to get a sense of how cool the other person’s pad is. Do they have good wifi? A large flat screen? A subscription to one of those bougie meal delivery services… just kidding! In reality, you want to consider bubbling according to need — your own and your loved ones’. Two families with small kids might want to bubble up because their children can play together at one house, while parents at the other get a break. If you have a family member who has been struggling with mental health during isolation, you may want to extend your bubble in that direction. Definitely be aware of the potential to hurt feelings and bruise egos during a time when people are already feeling sensitive and stressed.
Okay, sounds great. So when does this start?
The answer to that question depends on — you guessed it — what part of the country you live in. Alberta kicked off the “family cohort” trend way back in March. New Brunswick and Saskatchewan introduced double bubbles (or “virtual households") in late April, and Newfoundland followed suit last week. Worth noting that all of those provinces have met a bunch of standards around sustained decrease in new cases, and that Newfoundland’s Chief Medical Officer says people over the age of 70 (as well as those who are immunocompromised or have other vulnerabilities) should avoid expanding their social network.
B.C. has skipped right over the double bubble idea in favour of a more relaxed relaxation policy (sooooo West Coast). Last week provincial health officials said that as of mid-May people would be able gather in groups of six or less — indoors and outdoors — regardless of who anyone else had been in contact with. Premier John Horgan said that could include grandparents visiting grandchildren and play dates with kids as long as they observe social distancing rules. In Ontario, the outlook is a lot less sunny — and not just because winter has taken over as the default season.
Meaning no bubbles for people in Ontario?
Meaning — sigh — Ontario isn’t there yet. Asked late last week about whether double bubbling was on option in Canada’s largest province, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer David Williams explained that, “The key public health measure, as you recall, was the requirement for people to — except in the family unit or bubble — stay six feet away, ideally stay home, have very little interaction that would bring you in proximity of people closer than six feet. And that is still in place at this time.”
If businesses are opening up in Ontario, why can’t I have a friend over?
The decision to relax social-distance rules is based on the severity of outbreaks and the rate of people still getting infected. As for why businesses are opening up before Ontario changes the rules around seeing friends and family, this is probably based on the fact that spending time in other people’s homes is particularly risky behaviour. "When we look at our Toronto data, the greatest risk factor is being the household contact of somebody who actually has COVID-19," Toronto top doc Eileen de Villa told Metro Morning on Tuesday.
But wait, didn’t Doug Ford do a double bubble over the weekend?
That he did. At Monday’s press conference the premier mentioned that he had spent Mother’s Day with his four daughters — two of whom live at home and two who don’t. In doing so he broke both the recommendations from provincial and municipal health officers and his own government’s rules (gathers of more than five are still prohibited). People are calling out the premier on Twitter for what seems a lot like self-serving hypocrisy. Dr. de Villa was more sympathetic, saying of Ford’s actions: "I think this is a very human desire to want to do that, to connect with other families, or to connect with our extended family. But at his time, that's not the recommendation.” So when will Ontario get the go ahead? Stay tuned, stay safe, and (for now) stay home.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.