Ontarians get OK to build social bubbles of 10 people — and yes, you can hug

As new daily cases of COVID-19 continue to decline in Ontario, the Ford government is allowing people anywhere in the province to build "social circles" of up to 10 people that can include family and friends.

A person should be part of only 1 'social circle' of up to 10 people, province says

Be deliberate about who you add to your social circle, Ontario's chief medical officer of health said Friday as the province gave the OK for Ontarians to join an expanded social group of up to 10 people who don't have to physically distance amongst themselves. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

As new daily cases of COVID-19 continue to decline in Ontario, the Ford government is allowing people anywhere in the province to build "social circles" of up to 10 people that can include family and friends.

For the time being, a person can only be a part of one circle, in order to limit contact while still allowing individuals to see more of their family members or close contacts. Other provinces have referred to this as expanding social "bubbles," but the concept is essentially the same.

Within any given circle, social distancing measures are not necessary. 

"Think of your social circle as the people you can touch, hug and have close contact with as we continue the fight against COVID-19," Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said at an afternoon news conference with Premier Doug Ford.

"Be true to your social circle. No one should be part of more than one circle," she added.

Today's announcement is different from the revised guidelines on "social gatherings" released as part of the next phase of Ontario's reopening earlier this week. People can still gather in public spaces in groups of up to 10 with those outside of their expanded circle, but they have to stay two metres apart.

The province says that allowing Ontarians to expand their social circles to 10 could help families with child- or senior-care needs, for example, and help alleviate the mental health impacts of isolation.

But people in higher-risk groups should be discerning about who is part of their social circle, a public health official said at a morning briefing on the new policy. And if your current household already includes up to 10 people, then you cannot expand it further.

The new guidance takes effect today everywhere in Ontario, regardless of whether or not your region is moving into the next phase of reopening.

Ford said that his government is trusting Ontarians to expand their social circles responsibly, and that enforcement by police and municipal bylaw officers will not be a priority.

"The social circle police are not going to be knocking on your door. We're trusting people," he told reporters.

The province says that to form a safe social circle, Ontarians should follow these simple steps: 

  • Start with your current circle: the people you live with or who regularly come into your household. 
  • Step 2: If your current circle is under 10 people, you can add members to your circle, including another household, family members or friends. 
  • Step 3: Get agreement from everyone that they will join the circle. 
  • Step 4: Keep your social circle safe. Maintain physical distancing with anyone outside of your circle. 
  • Step 5: Be true to your social circle. No one should be part of more than one circle.

The maximum size of social circles might expand in the coming weeks and months, Ford said.

182 new COVID-19 cases today

Ontario reported 182 additional cases of COVID-19 — the lowest number of new cases on any day since March 28 — and another record number of tests today.

The 0.6 per cent increase brings the total number of cases in the province to 31,726, with 82.5 per cent of those are classified as resolved, including 302 marked resolved yesterday.

The five-day rolling average of new daily cases — a measure that helps smooth peaks and valleys in data — has been in consistent decline since June 4. 

Twenty-eight of Ontario's 34 public health units reported five or fewer new cases, and 17 of those reported no new cases at all; 90 of today's new cases are in Toronto.

There are now 3,041 active COVID-19 cases province-wide, the fewest since new daily cases started to rise again in mid-May. The Greater Toronto Area accounts for about 75 per cent of all current active cases.

The province's network of labs processed 28,335 tests for the novel coronavirus yesterday, by far the most in any 24-hour period since the outbreak began in late January. Some 18,512 test samples are currently waiting to be processed, meaning that more than 30,000 were added to the queue yesterday.

The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued its steady three-week decline and currently sits at 527, the fewest since April 5. Those being treated in intensive care units and with ventilators both decreased, as well.

Ontario's official COVID-19 death toll grew by 11 to 2,498 — the fourth straight day with fewer than 15 new deaths. A CBC News count based on data from regional public health, which avoids lag times in reporting, puts the real current death toll as of Friday evening at 2,553.

About 78.5 per cent of all COVID-19-linked deaths in the province were residents of long-term care homes. Public health officials are tracking 75 active outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

Earlier today, Sienna Senior Living, a private long-term care provider whose homes have seen dozens of deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, said its president and CEO resigned. The company announced that Lois Cormack is leaving her job, effective immediately.

Ontario's network of about 20 community, commercial and hospital labs processed more than 28,000 tests yesterday, by far the most on any single day since the outbreak began. (Erik White/CBC)

Meanwhile, most Ontario regions outside the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) will be allowed to reopen more businesses today, with some asking GTA residents to stay away.

The second stage of the province's reopening includes restaurant patios, hair salons and swimming pools.

The limit on social gatherings will increase from five to 10 provincewide, but people must still stay two metres away from anyone outside their own household.

Child-care centres across Ontario will also be allowed to reopen, but it's not yet clear how many will be able to implement new pandemic safety measures immediately.

The current pandemic restrictions will stay in place for the GTHA, which has a high concentration of COVID-19 cases, while border regions such as Windsor-Essex, Lambton County and Niagara, as well as Haldimand-Norfolk — which has seen an outbreak among migrant workers — will also not move to Stage 2 today.

With files from CBC's Lucas Powers and Mike Crawley

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