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Coronavirus: Manitoba not allowing ‘family bubbles’, not an easy decision: epidemiologist

Manitobans reminded to keep social interactions within the ‘bubble’ this May long weekend
With temperatures expected to rise over the May long weekend, Manitoba public health officials are reminding everyone to keep socially distancing, Global's Amber McGuckin reports.

As Manitobans adjust to loosened rules through the COVID-19 pandemic, the province has yet to include “family bubbles” in the reopening plans, despite other provinces allowing the practice.

The strategy — going ahead in both New Brunswick and British Columbia — allows an isolated household, which includes single people who live alone, to link up with another isolated household.

But there’s a lot for public health officials to consider before allowing people to expand their bubbles, says Kiffer Card, a behavioural epidemiologist from the University of Victoria.

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“The biggest concern would be that they implement this too early,” Kiffer told Global News Morning Winnipeg. “It’s not yet clear what the kind of optimal implementation criteria would be.

“We know, for instance, that a low incidence rate — meaning fewer new infections per day — is important, but we don’t know how low is low enough.”

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New Brunswick became the first province to allow the expansion of social isolation bubbles late last month, B.C. has implemented a similar policy and other provinces are considering it.

But the practice comes with rules.

In New Brunswick, for example, the choice has to be mutual and you’re unable to change your mind on who you choose to include in your bubble. The idea behind the approach is to provide people with social interaction they crave while limiting the amount of co-mingling.

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“It’s not a complete removal of physical distancing because there’s still that transmission risk,” explains Card.

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“That’s why we still need to take basic precautions like hand-washing, social distancing and making sure that if you do have vulnerable people in your network such as aging parents or grandparents, that you take extra precautions in interacting with them.”

For now, health officials in Manitoba have decided not to take the risk, despite changes to public health orders that have seen some businesses reopen with restrictions, including patios.

And with Winnipeg expected to have the nicest weather in Canada over the May long weekend, the province is reminding all Manitobans to keep it in the family, for the time being.

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“This is not a return to normal,” Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said last week.

“We’re not advising people go gather in groups of people outside their household and even go sit on a patio at the same table together.”

Behavioural epidemiologist on social bubbles
Behavioural epidemiologist on social bubbles

Meanwhile Manitoba’s former chief public health officer, Dr. Joel Kettner, says widening Manitobans social bubbles would likely only be a concern for those living with someone more vulnerable to the virus.

“If it’s younger people without the medical conditions, I am not sure I see a reason why not,” he told Global News Tuesday.

“If one or more members of the group are vulnerable even because of their age or chronic medical condition, it would be a mistake at this time.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Here’s how provinces plan to emerge from COVID-19 lockdown

Card said he trusts public health officials are keeping a close eye on the effects changes to public health orders — including expanding social bubbles — are having in other jurisdictions.

“A lot of this is unprecedented, we don’t necessarily have all the science available to us to know exactly how COVID-19 is going to respond to changes in our behaviour,” he said.

“It’s something that’s going to have to be tracked over time to see ultimately how the pandemic responds to our new changes in social connection.”

–With files from Erik Pindera, Gabrielle Marchand, Amber McGuckin, and Morganne Campbell

Manitoba’s “family bubble” not expanding quite yet
Manitoba’s “family bubble” not expanding quite yet

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

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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.