Coronavirus: N.B. first province to create ‘bubbles’ and other provinces look to follow suit

It was a concept first floated by New Zealand, and now New Brunswick has become the first Canadian province to follow suit.

It’s called the “family” or “new bubble,” an approach that sees two isolated households join together.

“Something as simple as sitting with my mother and my sister with a cup of tea took on a whole new meaning,” said Denise Gallant, a mother who lives in Saint John, N.B., and recently formed a “bubble” with her mother, father and sister.

“My daughter clearly was not going to pick one of the four grandparents and my son’s wife is an LPN (licensed practical nurse) so they were not going to risk anything either,” said Gallant’s parent, who live approximately 150 kilometres away in Moncton and called to see if she would join their bubble.

“She said, ‘we of course are going to take you in our bubble. My mom, dad and sister live together so their lives hadn’t changed much but they knew I was in serious distress.”

Recent measures passed by the provincial government have allowed Gallant and the rest of the province to expand their social isolation bubbles.

But there’s a catch.

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

“This was an idea that was borrowed from New Zealand whereby individual households are considered a bubble and in the most restrictive phase, when the measures are such that you really can’t leave your home unless you’re going out for groceries,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the medical officer of health for New Brunswick.

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“In that phase, if you’re a person living alone and very isolated, this very damaging and very stressful from a mental health perspective.”

If the number of COVID-19 cases spike, however, the province will revoke the bubble measures.

New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan have rolled back emergency measures, in some areas, opening parks and other public spaces.

Provinces like Ontario are taking note along the way. Although its population of more than 14.5 million surpasses those provinces, the chief medical officer of health said many lessons can be learned.

“It will be informative to see how that works, knowing that with a smaller population spread out over quite a large area, and their dense urban populations are even less dense than ours, so always wanting to learn, always wanting to watch because we would like to, when we make decisions, not to backtrack,’ said Dr. David Williams.

 “Our experts are watching that and we’re trying to keep as informed as possible to give the best advice to the premier and government.”

Medical experts said expanding a bubble increases the chance of spreading infection if people aren’t mindful and careful, but there is a way it can be done — and done well.

“In theory, it makes perfect sense; in fact, I’ve been advising people to do that even before the bubble theory,” said Dr. Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and professor with the University of Ottawa.

“If you’re quarantined with your family and another family is equally as well quarantined then you can be virtually quarantined together and have the same experience. So long as you’re confident that the other family is being responsible with who they’re in contact with.”

Selecting what family to join with could cause a rift in the family, and psychologists suggest that decision needs to be made together as a family unit.

“It should be all of you saying, ‘what makes sense, how do we do this?’ And I think the more you can make this a rational decision, which is not our strong-point, as humans we do things emotionally most of the time, but the more we can make it rationally the less someone else would feel slighted,” explains Steve Joordens, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus.

“There may be a sense of feeling a little left out for the person that is not in that bubble.”

Which Joordens points to as one of the only psychological negatives in this situation.

New Brunswick is the only province currently using this approach. New Zealand, where the concept originated, is now looking at creating travel bubbles after a steady decrease in COVID-19 cases based on the same concept.

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