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Safer Social Interactions

Getting together with others is important to our wellbeing and there are actions you can take to reduce your chances of getting COVID-19 or passing it on to your friends and family.

Social interaction and getting together with others in person and online is important to our wellbeing. This information will help you decide how you would like to spend time with people inside your social group in the safest way for you. It will also help you navigate interactions with those outside your social group when you’re in different situations out in public.

What is a social group? 
A social group includes people outside of your household that you spend time with, in person. It can be one other person or a small group of people. You can meet with this person or group inside or outside. This group should be the only group you spend time with in person. 

It is recommended that your social group be limited to 5 – 10 people outside of your household members. But this is just for guidance – your family or household situation may need to be more flexible. You or your social group might be a large multi-generational family, a household that includes housemates, or you and one close friend. In all cases you should use your judgement and comfort level, as well as your own health and the health of those in your group, when deciding how large your social group should be.

Different situations will also impact these personal decisions, such as where you are spending time together, how long you are spending time together, and if anyone in your social group is sick or is at a greater risk of getting sick.

Here are a few things to remember in any situation

  • Fewer faces, bigger spaces – think of this when deciding who should be in your social group and how you want to spend time together.
  • Physical distancing is always important when you are with people outside your social group. Keeping a physical distance is the most effective way of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
  • Be patient – you might have to wait longer than usual – for bathrooms, shops or restaurants, or for your children to use playground equipment.
  • Avoid spending time in person if someone is feeling unwell - If any member of your household or social group is sick, or thinks they might be sick, they should not be spending time, in person, with others. People who have symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested and follow self-isolation guidelines.

One of the best ways to limit the spread of any infection is to practice good personal hygiene through hand washing, hand sanitizing, and respiratory etiquette. Key things to remember include:

  • Try to have hand sanitizer with you when you go out in case hand washing is not possible (at the park when you’re having a picnic for example).
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Pay attention to posters and signage that indicate where hand washing is available.
  • Wash your hands before you leave your home and as soon as you return.

Your social group

Even though spending time with your social group is relatively safe, there are some things that you can do to be even safer (note different guidelines may apply to other settings such as schools and hospitals):

  • Maintain a safe distance – remember to stay at least 2 metres (6 feet) from anyone outside of your immediate household or outside of your social group. This is especially important if you are meeting inside.
  • Wash your hands often – this is one of the best ways to stay healthy, along with not touching your face.
  • Disinfect things that lots of people might touch – like doorknobs, faucets, doorbells, elevator buttons (check with your building manager if you live in an apartment or condo), light switches, etc.
  • Keep a record of the people you spend time with – in the event someone does get COVID-19, knowing who you spent time with and having their contact information on hand will help public health get in touch quickly to reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19 to others in your community including those who are more likely to experience severe illness.

Your social group is the small group of people or individuals outside of your household that you spend time with in person. Even if you are only interacting with one person at a time, each of these people comprises a member of your social group.

By just including a small group of people, and spending time with only those people, you are helping to stop the spread of COVID. If someone in your social group does get COVID-19, the spread will be contained.

There aren’t specific rules for how to choose the people in your social group. As a guideline, keep the circle of people you meet with small and consistent. 

You may also want to consider if there are things that put the people you are spending time with at risk for more severe illness. If you’re going to be in close contact for a prolonged period of time, think about how to reduce the risk to them.

Those at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 include people who:

  • Are 65 years or older
  • Are immunocompromised (anyone having cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplant; those with immune deficiencies, those having difficulties managing their HIV or AIDS; those who have prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications)
  • Live in long-term care facilities
  • Have underlying medical conditions that are not under control (such as serious heart conditions, chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, diabetes, liver disease, chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis, severe obesity)
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Smoke or vape.

Consider if the people you are spending time with will be in situations where they are at greater risk of transmitting COVID-19 to others who may be more vulnerable including:

  • Health care providers
  • Workers in a long-term care facility
  • Frequent international travel
  • Often in situations where they can’t be physically distant at work or in the community.

Getting Together Outside

Getting together outside, with lots of space between you, is the safest way to visit with people outside of your social group. There are lots of activities you can do, and some are safer than others.

Remember – the more space you have, and the less time you spend together, the safer you are!

Enjoying a meal or just relaxing in a park is a nice way to spend time with people inside and outside of your social group.

Remember – even though you are outside while visiting with people, the more space you have, and the less time you spend together, the safer you are!

To make your time outside together safer

  • Bring your own hand sanitizer, or water, soap and paper towels, to wash your hands frequently
  • Bring your own food, drinks, cups, plates, cutlery and cooking utensils
  • If you share food, have people use their own serving utensils and avoid shared finger foods like chips, unless served directly from the package to each person individually
  • Be patient in busy areas – the parking lot, the park entrance, and in the park itself
  • If the park is too crowded, come back when there are fewer people or find a spot in a different park
  • Consider having your barbecue or picnic in your yard, rather than at a park.

Camping can be a fun, safe way to spend time together if you follow a few simple suggestions.

Remember – Maintain physical distancing as much as possible, even if you are just with your social group, as you’ll be together for a prolonged period of time.

To make your camping trip safer

  • Sleep in your own tent, or in a tent with only members from your own household.

  • Pick a campground that is not crowded

  • Pick a campground that does not have shared picnic areas, if possible.

  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before and after using any shared items or areas (such as washrooms, waterspouts, barbecue equipment, or recreational equipment such as canoes, paddles, life jackets, etc.)

  • Maintain physical distancing throughout your trip: spread out around a campfire, do not sit close together around picnic tables while eating, and do not spend time inside tents with members outside your household.

Sharing equipment

When you go camping, you often need to share things such as food, cooking tools, and even transportation to arrive at the campsite or hiking trail. Here are some ways to reduce the number of things you share:

  • Bring and make food just for your immediate household; avoid making food for the whole group.

  • If you want to share snacks (chips, carrots, fruit, etc.) pour food into separate bowls instead of everyone grabbing food out of one bowl.

  • Do not share utensils, plates, or cups; after each meal wash them all with soap and water.

  • If you can, each household should drive to the campsite in their own vehicle. 

Sports of all types are great ways of having fun with others and getting some exercise and fresh air. 

To maintain social distancing, choose sports that don’t require a lot of close contact and do not have a lot of shared equipment. And remember to have a first aid kit and hand sanitizer available.

Remember – you’ll need more space between people when playing sports. This is because many sports and recreational activities can make you breath faster and harder, and droplets from breathing or coughing will spread further than normal. Choose sports that don’t require close contact!

To make your sports safer
  • Consider having “no contact” rules
  • Have smaller teams
  • Bring your own water and snacks
  • Bring your own equipment and something to disinfect it with 
  • Bring hand sanitizer, or soap and water to wash your hands before and after play.

Getting Together Inside

Why it is riskier to visit with people inside
COVID-19 spreads through the respiratory droplets, that come out of our noses and mouths when we breathe, talk, laugh, cough and sneeze. These droplets can travel up to 2 metres before they fall to the ground and may land on others or be inhaled by them. Poor ventilation in indoor spaces can make it easier for droplets to travel. 

COVID-19 is also spread when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. There are more surfaces indoors that people touch frequently, which makes it easier for the virus to spread.

Although getting together with people outside is best, there are times you may want to visit inside at either your home or their home.

Because visiting inside is riskier than visiting outside, it is important to plan your time together if you decide to socialize inside.

Here are a few things you can do to make your time inside together safer:

  • An order from the Provincial Health Officer limits gatherings in personal homes to no more than the members of the household plus six other people. This means if you are hosting a gathering, you should stick to your household plus a maximum of six additional guests, your ‘safe six’.
  • Visit in large rooms where there is more space for people to sit or stand farther apart.
  • Choose well-ventilated spaces (spaces where there is lots of fresh air) and open windows if you can. 
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that people touch often, avoid touching surfaces when possible, and remember to wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.
  • If you need to pass someone in a tight space (like a hallway or on stairs) try to pass them quickly or wait until they are gone before you enter the hallway or stairs.
  • Limit your time indoors together (the less time you spend in a confined space together, the better). For example, it might be better to have 2 friends over for a drink on your patio for an hour, than to have them inside for dinner for the whole evening.
  • If you are going to visit with others indoors, stay apart and sit apart as much as possible, and keep your visit shorter and with fewer people. 
  • If you can eat outside on a patio or balcony that allows for physical distancing, that is preferable to eating inside.
  • Try to bring your own plates, glasses, or utensils. Do not serve food in a buffet style, where many people are touching serving implements and hovering over food.   
Eating in restaurants is one of the higher-risk activities you can do during a pandemic. This is because it is often inside and, because you will be eating and drinking, you won’t be able to wear your mask (information on wearing masks in the community). You will also be in a smaller space for a longer period of time. The longer we’re with other people, the more chance there is for them to come into contact with our respiratory droplets.  

Remember – the less time you spend inside the better!

To make eating in restaurants safer

  • Pick a restaurant that has an outdoor patio.
  • Pick a restaurant that has windows that open, good ventilation and lots of space between tables.
  • Try not to share condiments. Some restaurants offer single-use condiments, so you don’t have to touch shared ones.
  • Choose separate meals; avoid sharing food and utensils and avoid family style eating when possible. If this is not feasible, ask for separate sets of serving utensils to allow sharing safely
  • Wash your hands when you get to the restaurant, and before you leave (or use hand sanitizer if hand washing is not possible). 
  • If you can enjoy this experience with your social group by opting for takeout and eating outside, choose that option.
Money carries lots of germs because so many people touch it. Although there are no documented cases or clusters related to COVID-19 transmission by cash and coin payment, you should clean your hands often if you deal with money.

Here are some easy ways to increase the safety of paying for items when you’re shopping:
  • Call or email the store ahead of time to ask if you can pre-pay and get your receipt electronically. Pick up your items quickly and maintain social distancing.
  • Try to use touch-free payment methods when possible, such as debit cards, credit cards, or mobile phones.
  • If you don’t need a receipt, don’t take one.
Staying active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and many people during this time are opting to exercise outdoors rather than go to their local gym or fitness facility. Exercising outdoors (on your own) is the safest option, but if you choose to go to the gym there are a few things to remember.

When you pack a bag to go to the gym, make sure to bring items that you might normally use communally. 
  • A full water bottle 
  • Hand sanitizer to ensure you have a way to clean your hands between the use of different pieces of equipment (if hand washing is not possible). 
  • Personal items for use in the change rooms (such as hairdryers, deodorant, soaps, etc.). 
  • Your own towel (rather than those provided by a linen service). 
  • If you use equipment during your workout, bring your own if possible (such as helmets, racquets, goggles, yoga mats, gloves, weight belts, ankle guards, etc.)
When at the gym, don’t share water bottles or other drinks, choose exercises that keep you in the same spot and at least 2 metres away from others, and clean or disinfect equipment after use – wait for equipment surfaces to air dry naturally before using. Wash your hands before and after a workout and use hand sanitizer when transitioning between pieces of equipment.

Group classes involve the most risk, so ensure that spacing is adequate or the class is being held outdoors if you choose to participate.

If you use the services of a personal trainer, consider the use of technology for virtual training where possible. If you are meeting with your trainer in person, avoid physical contact during sessions and maintain physical distance. Avoid activities that necessitate close contact (e.g., needing spotters during weight training, sparring in martial arts, and games in contact sports). 

Additional Resources

  • Good Times Guide: A playbook for how to have fun and to keep each other safe and healthy.
  • Safer Celebrations: Information to consider to help make celebrations safer for everyone.
  • Halloween: Tips to keep safe during Halloween including information on trick or treating and distributing treats.

SOURCE: Safer Social Interactions ( )
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