As new daily cases of COVID-19 continue to decline in Ontario, the Ford government is allowing people anywhere in the province to build “social circles” of up to 10 people that can include family and friends.
For now, a person can only be a part of one circle, in order to limit contact while still allowing individuals to see more of their family members or close contacts. Other provinces have referred to this as expanding social “bubbles,” but the concept is essentially the same.
Within any given circle, social distancing measures are not necessary, meaning members can do things like hug or kiss.
“Think of your social circle as the people you can touch, hug and have close contact with as we continue the fight against COVID-19,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said at an afternoon news conference with Premier Doug Ford.
“Be true to your social circle. No one should be part of more than one circle,” she added.
It’s important to note that today’s announcement is different from the revised guidelines on “social gatherings” released as part of the next phase of Ontario’s reopening earlier this week. People can still gather in public spaces in groups of up to 10 with those outside of their expanded circle, but you have to stay two metres apart.
The province says that allowing Ontarians to expand their social circles to 10 could help families with child or senior-care needs, for example, and help alleviate the mental health impacts of isolation.
But people in higher-risk groups should be discerning about who is a part of their social circle, a public health official said at a morning briefing for the media on the new policy. And if your current household already includes up to 10 people, then you cannot expand it further.
It takes effect today everywhere in Ontario, regardless of whether or not your region is moving into the next phase of reopening.
Ford said that his government is trusting Ontarians to expand their social circles responsibly, and that enforcement by police and municipal by-law officers will not be a priority.
“The social circle police are not going to be knocking on your door. We’re trusting people,” he told reporters.
The province says that to form a safe social circle, Ontarians should follow these simple steps:
- Start with your current circle: the people you live with or who regularly come into your household.
- Step 2: If your current circle is under 10 people, you can add members to your circle, including another household, family members or friends.
- Step 3: Get agreement from everyone that they will join the circle.
- Step 4: Keep your social circle safe. Maintain physical distancing with anyone outside of your circle.
- Step 5: Be true to your social circle. No one should be part of more than one circle.
The maximum size of social circles might expand in the coming weeks and months, Ford said.