Coronavirus: Ontario introduces 'social circles' allowing interaction outside of household

WATCH: New 'social circles' guidelines in Ontario allow gatherings of up to 10 people

The Ontario government is introducing “social circles,” aimed at allowing residents to interact with individuals outside of their household as restrictions continue to ease amid improving coronavirus case numbers.

“Social circle” guidelines now allow Ontarians to expand a social group up to a maximum of 10 people, including those in their household, without physical distancing.

“Think of your social circle as the people you can touch, hug and come into close contact with as we continue our shared fight against COVID-19. A social circle is made up of families and friends that you can interact with, without the need for physical distancing,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said.

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The concept took effect throughout the province on Friday.

“We know there are friends, families and loved ones who you haven’t been able to hug or come in close contact with in months,” Premier Doug Ford said.

“And today, the public health guidelines will be changing … This is a very, very important step forward.”

The government has released a step-by-step guide on how to build a social circle, a summarized version of which is below:

Step 1

  • Begin by including those already in your household and anyone who would come into regular close contact with those who you live with, including babysitters or caregivers. Include anyone in their households as well, even if you do not see them often.

Step 2

  • If your current circle is under 10 people, you can add other family members or friends.
  • Consider those in their household to be a part of your social circle. You may never see them, but they are still considered a part of your circle.
  • Individuals at high risk of COVID-19, including those over 70, can participate in social circles depending on the circumstances.

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Step 3

  • Get agreement and understanding from everyone who joins your circle. Frontline healthcare workers can join a circle, so long as everyone understands the risks.

Step 4

  • Continue to physically distance from anyone outside of your circle and follow public health advice, including frequent hand washing.
  • If someone inside your social circle begins feeling ill, they should self-isolate. Everyone else in the circle should closely monitor for symptoms and get tested if they feel they have been exposed to COVID-19.

Step 5

  • Remain a part of only one social circle.

The government said this concept, which has been used in other jurisdictions, allows for quick contact tracing if positive cases arise, while also helping to improve the mental health of Ontarians who have been in social isolation for months.

Different than social gathering limit

The news comes as the gathering limit increased Friday from five to 10 people and many regions in the province entered Stage 2 of reopening.

“I do want to be clear: the rules for social circles are different from the recent expansion of social gatherings from five to 10 people,” Elliott said.

“Social gatherings can be any 10 people from outside of your household or circle but where physical distancing of at least two metres must be maintained.”

Ontario reported 182 new coronavirus cases on Friday, marking the lowest single-day increase since March 28. Over 28,000 additional tests were conducted.

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While optimistic in his Friday press conference, Ford said Ontarians must still remain vigilant as restrictions and guidelines continue to be eased.

“As we reopen and as we reunite, we must continue to remain on guard,” he said

Ford said while there won’t be a “social circle police,” he’s asking that Ontarians follow the guidelines.

The guidelines are not enforceable by law, except for the cap on 10 people in a social gathering.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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