Experts worry social restrictions might be tough to swallow after months of freedom

COVID-19 cases back on the rise in Canada

As COVID-19 case counts continue to rise across Canada, some of the country’s top doctors are urging people to pop their social bubbles in favour of a more cautious approach.

While experts in psychology and epidemiology agree getting rid of bubbles is the right move in hot-spot regions, they also worry that introducing new restrictions will take some convincing for those who have been socializing more liberally for the last few months.

“I think we had a taste of the good life over the summer,” said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa. “And now there’s going to be a lot of resistance, especially because (we were allowed to socialize) and we avoided the apocalypse, for lack of a better term.”

COVID case counts dwindled nationwide over the the last few months, allowing businesses to reopen and bubbles, usually of about 10 people, to emerge as a safer way to interact with friends and family.

Deonandan says increasing case counts will lead to increasing restrictions. And that’s starting to happen now as cities and provinces report COVID levels not seen since May and June.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s top public health official, said Monday that social bubbles are no longer viable in Canada’s largest city, instead urging people to interact only with those within their households.

British Columbia’s top doctor Bonnie Henry also said Monday that socialization should be limited to peoples’ households or six-person bubbles, while Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube essentially banned visitors to private homes in parts of the province for the next four weeks.

Winnipeg epidemiologist Cynthia Carr says social bubbles can still work in areas of the country where community spread is low. But they’re no longer effective as “harm reduction measures” where cases are rising rapidly.

Getting people to disband their social bubbles can be tricky though, especially for those who had difficulty with isolation in the early stages of the pandemic.

“It’s almost sort of a reset emotionally and mentally isn’t it? You have to go back to that situation,” Carr said. “Part of the challenge … is knowing how it felt. It was lonely and anxiety-inducing.

“But the reality is in some of these cities we’re seeing pretty quick increases (in case counts). We need to … bring that back under control, otherwise this exponential spread could increase pretty quickly.”

Deonandan says some people won’t have a problem limiting their social interactions to early-pandemic levels, but others will.

He expects those who have developed a “perception lag” after being able to socialize so freely in the summer to be especially resistant.

“People think that the threat a) never existed or b) has been averted, and that’s not the case. We simply pushed it aside until now,” Deonandan said. “And as a result of that people are going to be unwilling to accept restrictions to a large extent.”

Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, is also concerned with peoples’ perception of what tightening restrictions means.

He says that while public health officials did warn of the second wave in the months before it happened, the messaging could have been more clear to stress that summer socializing would be temporary.

“I wish it had been better marketed in a way (that said) in order to take two steps forward, we’re going to have to take one step back,” he said.

The worry, Joordens says, is that people will feel their efforts to slow the spread of the virus were done in vain.

And if they feel failure, they’re more likely to abandon restrictions altogether the second time around.

“If it starts to feel like we did all the stuff we were told to do and things got a little better but now it’s worse … there’s going to be this sense that it didn’t work,” he said. “We’re back where we were and there’s this helplessness, a disempowerment that can lead to some anxiety and depression, but also probably less of a likelihood that people are going to comply (in the future).”

Dr. Camille Lemieux, the Chief of Family Medicine at the University Health Network, agrees that misleading rhetoric about social bubbles can cause people to defy those regulations.

That doesn’t mean they simply don’t want to follow the rules though. They’re probably just confused by them.

“I don’t think there’s a population running around out there … snubbing their noses at everything that’s going on,” she said. “I think people are concerned, but when they don’t know what to do and everything changes every second day … people throw their hands up in the air and say, ‘Well, might as well do nothing because I don’t understand what to do anymore.’”

That’s the reason Deonandan says the messaging needs to be firm and structured this time around, rather than the “panicked rush to do something” we saw in March and April.

“Now we know what to do,” he said. “So let’s just do it.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The bobsled race has traditionally been a staple event at the carnival. File photo
Upcoming Rossland Winter Carnival cancelled due to COVID-19 crisis

This is the first time the carnival won’t be held in decades

A tender for the project will be sent out on BC Bid. Photo: B.C. Government
Nakusp Elementary School child care centre set to open in May 2022

Conceptual drawings and project timelines for centre have already been complete

People participating at a Remembrance Day event in Nakusp in 2016. Photo: Jillian Trainor
Scaled-down Remembrance Day event to take place in Nakusp

People are asked to physically distance and wear masks if they attend the event

A view of proposed seniors housing on Vernon St. Illustration: City of Nelson/ Vendure Retirement Communities
Nelson seniors housing project to start construction in the spring

Private development on Vernon Street will provide assisted living services as well as housing

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health records third COVID-19 death

A new community outbreak was reported at Okanagan Men’s Centre in Lake Country

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Blue Sky Kingdom.
Kimberley’s Bruce Kirkby publishes “Blue Sky Kingdom” documenting family adventure to Zanskar

Kirkby third book explores spirituality, mental health, modernity and tradition

Most Read