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If we’re six feet apart, can we still hang out during the coronavirus outbreak?

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It’s the first long weekend during the coronavirus pandemic and many Canadians may have the urge to socialize with family and friends.

While physical distancing continues to be the anti-virus prevention protocol touted by health officials, some experts say Canadian are still unsure how to hangout safely with people in their lives.

For instance, there have been some photos circulating the web of “driveway parties,” where people sit six feet (or two metres) apart from their neighbours. In other cases, people have been seen taking walks with friends six feet apart. But is all of this safe?

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Craig Janes, director of the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, tells Global News physical distancing should still be the priority.

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“I think that taking care to avoid being with too many people at one time and respecting the minimum two-metre distance is the basic rule of thumb to always follow here, along with handwashing,” he said.

Janes said he himself goes on walks with friends keeping the rule intact and talks to neighbours over the fence.

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“I think it is important for our general well-being to maintain these social connections as much as we can,” he said.

“We’re learning that talking, singing, and perhaps even breathing can spread the virus, not just coughing or sneezing. This is why distancing is so important.”

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Kate Mulligan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, tells Global News she sees the need people have for staying in touch in person, but at this time, we should avoid seeing people outside of our households.

“Yes, we are supposed to be making social connections, but no, we are not supposed to be really hanging out together anymore.”

Mulligan says the news cycle around this pandemic is changing quickly, and while it may have seemed okay to socialize with people outside of your home a few weeks ago, the goal now is to continue flattening the curve and practise physical distancing.

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“It’s getting stricter … [health officials] don’t want to see people walking … just because of the sheer numbers.” While walking alone or walking with members of your household is still considered okay for Canadians to do, Mulligan said it is harder for people to keep their physical distance if everyone is out at the same time.
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While there have been several stories of neighbours coming together during COVID-19, whether this means front porch concerts, backyard gatherings or talking to people via your balcony, Mulligan says use your best judgement.

“It just gets very difficult and very tempting.” 

Staying social in a pandemic

In her research, Mulligan looks at how social prescribing is important and she says in a time like this, it is vital.

“We are a social species,” she said. “We’re evolved to want to be around other people. And so those feelings that we have are very real and are biophysical … not just emotional.”

She says regardless, we need to find other ways to stay connected and stay social.

For “touch” connections, this means hugging the people in your household or being more close with your pets.

This does become a challenge when you live alone, so Mulligan suggests having video calls as much as you can.

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“Even a text message or a phone call, letting somebody know that you are checking in on them makes a big difference.”

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She says research suggests reconnecting with nature (in a safe way) or even exploring culture by listening to music, reading, crafting or watching television are all ways for us to stay social.

But the number one most important one that we’ve found in our research is connecting with other people and helping other people,” she said, adding when we reach out to someone in need to give back to our communities, it can be a great way to feel connected.

In other words, feeling a sense of being social or having human interaction may not just be about talking with your best friends. It can include being social with the people in your community.

She recommends volunteering to do groceries for someone in need, donating to local food banks and checking in on elderly family members on a regular basis.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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