In early May, Gideon Lichfield, editor-in-chief of the MIT Technology Review, announced online that he would break his isolation for the first time in two months.
And he was going to do it by joining another household.
“In fact, we will become an extended family, free to visit other people’s homes, share meals and – yes! – hug, “wrote Lichfield, who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I live alone, but I am a very social person, and the simple thought of being able to sit next to someone on a sofa gives the impression of finding water after days of wandering in the desert . “
The measure adopted by Lichfield has been called “quarantine” or “double bubbling” and, although it is a personal decision, jurisdictions around the world – including some provinces in Canada – have officially promoted it as a means of social interaction during the pandemic.
New Brunswick and Newfoundland said in late April that households could choose to double to decrease social isolation.
Photos of families kissing in these provinces were posted on social media in the days that followed, according to media reports.
Countries like Belgium and the United Kingdom have also considered restricted social bubbles, where people are allowed to have contact with friends outside their home and no one else, which has been studied by the sociologist of the University of Oxford Per Block as a way to reintroduce socialization.
In British Columbia and Ontario, however, officials continue to promote social distancing, limiting public gatherings to five or six people respectively, although scenes from Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto – where thousands of people gathered on Saturday – say the opposite.
It will take days before we can understand how the social mingling of a large group – which has the potential to be a large-scale event and which the city and the province have tried to avoid at all costs – will affect transmission coronavirus in Toronto.
“Given the average incubation period of five days, I would expect to see an effect of the gatherings in about a week,” said epidemiologist Jeff Kwong, family doctor and professor at the School of Public Health Dalla Lana from the University of Toronto. “Hopefully, with the expansion of test eligibility, people will be tested soon after symptoms appear. But it still takes a day between the date of the tests and the communication of the results. “
Experts believe that transmission should increase with the opening of jurisdictions in Canada.
“The more people we come in contact with, the more social we have, the more likely we are to be infected and the more likely we are to pass them on if we infect ourselves,” said Susan Bondy, associate professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana school.
No one currently knows whether combining households or restrictive social bubbles is a better way out of isolation than social isolation.
Ontario officials, including Premier Doug Ford and Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa, have said firmly that people should limit close interactions with their immediate families.
“I would stay with my immediate family,” said Ford earlier in May, media reports said. “That would be my recommendation. I wouldn’t go into big gatherings. It simply cannot happen. We want to keep it in the immediate family just a little longer. “
Chris Bauch, professor and university research chair in the department of applied mathematics at the University of Waterloo, said that social bubbles are widened – which means you socialize with people outside your immediate home or bubble – are a fairly new concept and it is difficult to determine whether they would work.
“I think it is difficult for us to quantify the level of risk brought about by the bubbling,” said Bauch, who has not seen a model capable of predicting what it would look like in Ontario.
Currently, if we leave the grocery store and are infected, the risk is that we will pass it on to our immediate home.
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“But in a bubbling environment, if you happen to be infected in the supermarket, you can pass it on not only to your family but very quickly to the people with whom you bubble. So you’ve doubled your exposure to the virus, “said Bauch. And that “can still create these continuous chains of transmission in the population, from the supermarket to the bubble, from the supermarket to another bubble”.
Block’s modeling, which was carried out in the United Kingdom, indicates that “if social distancing measures clearly flatten the curve, the strategic reduction of contacts can greatly increase their effectiveness, introducing the possibility of allowing certain social contacts while keeping the risks low. “
Bauch thinks there might be some value in both approaches.
“These are the two ways of trying to give people a pressure relief valve on the pressure cooker,” said Bauch. “And maybe they are both really beneficial in this kind of meta-aspect. “
Bauch released a study last week, co-authored by Vadim Karatayev and Madhur Anand of the University of Guelph, that geography should play a role in the reopening of the economy in Ontario due to rate variability. COVID-19 infection per capita in the Province.
This variability is also apparent in the rest of Canada.
New Brunswick and Newfoundland, which allow double bubbling, had 121 and 260 cases respectively as of Monday.
“It comes down to a lot of that,” said Bauch. “Ontario and Quebec are the most affected provinces. The Maritimes and some Prairies flattened the curve very quickly.
“I think the bubbling is an adaptation, maybe a justified risk in the case of the Maritimes, because they were good enough to flatten the curve. Maybe in Ontario we are not ready for this yet, as we still have a lot of activity in many parts of the province. “
However, the policy has caused anxiety among families about choosing one set of relatives or friends over another, and has resulted in rejection, media reports said. And the measure was not recommended for people 60 and older with chronic illnesses or other vulnerable populations.
A positive sign in Ontario in recent weeks has been the current number of spawners, which refers to the average number of secondary infections resulting from a virus case. Mathematical models show it is less than one, said Bauch.
When the number is less than one, which means that an infected person transmits the virus to less than another person, it goes out.
Bondy and Bauch say it is inevitable that numbers will start to climb again.
“The question is how much we can tolerate,” said Bondy. “It takes huge tracking and testing resources to counter the effect of greater social interaction.
“We have greatly increased our capacity since January, thanks to contact tracking and testing. The question is whether this can be enough … to keep the number of reproductions low. “
Canada Successfully Fought SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – below one to get rid of the virus, she says.
“It is not optimistic that we will end this one by putting the (breeding) number below one,” said Bondy. “So the question is how much we can keep it so that we don’t have the spread of the epidemic again so that you have this exponential growth of new cases again. “