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Live alone or with a roommate in Alberta? Your COVID-19 questions answered

Common questions have arisen regarding rules for those who live alone, so here's what Alberta Health and an infectious disease specialist say.

Common questions have come up for those who live alone or in unique situations

Effective Nov. 24, mandatory restrictions on socializing came into effect across Alberta, but those who live alone have a unique set of rules. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The Alberta government announced a ban Tuesday on indoor social gatherings for a minimum of three weeks in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.

This rule does not apply to visits by caregivers, health-care or child-care providers, or to co-parenting or shared households, said Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

But for those who live alone, the blanket rules don't offer enough detail.

Hinshaw says if you live alone, you can pick two people to socialize with, in your home or otherwise.

"We recognize many Albertans live alone and we do not want these people to feel socially isolated at a challenging time. That is why they are permitted to have two non-household close contacts to socialize with. They must be the same two people for the duration of these restrictions," said Hinshaw.

How this request applies to real life situations brings up some "reasonable questions," says Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta.

"If we just keep in mind the overall goal of not having people essentially mixing networks … I think it becomes a little bit easier to try to figure out what we need to do."

She says the pandemic has been especially hard on people who live alone and she is sympathetic.

"I actually think that that group of individuals who live alone are really disadvantaged by the pandemic," said Saxinger.

"I mean, they're also safer, obviously, but … it's a mental strain. I think that really does add up over time."

She acknowledges this can lead to people looking for a "loophole" to the rules but "the virus doesn't care if it's a loophole, the virus just likes to spread between people."

Can a person living alone host their two non-household contacts at their home?

According to Alberta Health, yes.

"If you live alone, you may choose up to two non-household close contacts to visit your home," said Alberta Health in an emailed statement.

Hosting people in your home can increase risk of contracting the virus, notes Saxinger.

"If you have three individuals together and two of them are in a household bubble, there is an element that you're basically now bringing everyone that they're in contact with regularly into the bubble," she said.

"That can be an additional risk, particularly if there's people in the household who have outward-facing jobs."

She says that's why it's important to carefully select the people you see.

"Who is important in your life, who is in a higher risk position? You might not choose to have anyone else outside that group because that would just increase the risk to a whole different network."

People who live alone can still go to restaurants with up to two people who they have chosen to be their non-household contacts for the duration of the provincial measures. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Can a person who lives alone visit a restaurant with their two contacts?

Yes, according to Alberta Health. People who live alone can go out to a restaurant with up to two non-household contacts so long as they are the same two contacts for the length these measures are in place.

Saxinger thinks the risk profile in visiting at home and at a restaurant with those same people would be similar because of enhanced sanitary and physical distancing mandates enforced at restaurants.

"There might be some thought that that may be a little bit less risky than relaxing within your own home setting where it's, I think, potentially easier to forget about the distancing and other measures," she said.

"To me, it still comes down to who's at the table and what kind of network they're associated with."

Do the two non-household contacts have to also live alone, or can they both be from different households?

The Alberta Health website does not explicitly confirm what type of contacts the two non-household can have, and Alberta Health did not respond to a request by CBC News to clarify this.

Saxinger says it's best to try to reduce the network of people you are seeing overall as best as possible.

"I would tend to think that the optimal strategy would be to have picked two people who are not already in a bubble and that you become basically a … non-household rooted kind of cohort of your own and try to stay faithful to it," said Saxinger.

She notes that if a person living alone does socialize with a chosen close contact who is a part of another household, that staying outside their house and avoiding contact with anyone else in that household could reduce the risk of transmission.

"The individual representative of the entire household does not necessarily have the entire risk of the household associated with them," said Saxinger.

"It's not a given that everyone has the same risk within the household."

If you don't socialize with your roommates, can you still visit with two non-household contacts?

Again, the rules according to Alberta Health don't address this specific scenario.

Saxinger says that regardless of social interaction, "household exposures are significant just because of the duration of time and shared airspace and shared high-touch surfaces."

She says even if roommates were diligent about cleaning shared spaces and surfaces, that reality exists.

"It seems like it would be most practical to say that that person is in your household, whether you like them or not."

If your cohort includes others outside of your home, can you still visit with them?

Alberta Health states that the restrictions on all social gatherings applies to cohorts. Meaning that even within a cohort, you cannot socialize indoors across households.

People can gather in groups of up to 10 outdoors, but cannot go inside a house that's not their own, for any reason, including to use the washroom or warm up, said Hinshaw.

"Outdoor gatherings of a maximum of 10 may also still occur. But to be clear, if you host a gathering in your backyard, guests cannot be coming into your house to use the washroom, get snacks or to warm up. If they are coming inside your home for any reason, that is an indoor gathering," Hinshaw said.

CBC News reached out to Alberta Health for further clarification for the above questions but did not hear back.

With files from Heather Moriarty.

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