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How New Brunswick is using 'household bubbles' to socialize amid COVID-19
TORONTO -- New Brunswick has loosened some of its physical distancing measures in a new system that the premier says allows residents to socialize with individuals outside their immediate household as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs told CTV's Your Morning that the introduction of 'household bubbles' allows a family in one house to choose one other household to spend time with, assuming that both agree to the arrangement and don't have close contact with anyone else.
"It's related to families that would interact in a normal way except you have to pick one. If you have multiple siblings it can create a little angst within the family unit. It is not going from one to another, it's saying 'OK, I'm going to connect with this sibling and this family and that will be my unit for the next couple of weeks," Higgs said in an interview on Tuesday.
Higgs said the method can create social interaction without widespread risk of spreading the disease. He said it can also be applied to direct neighbours instead of families, but large gatherings are still banned.
"It's just a way to start opening up family interaction, social interaction and try to get people working together again in a new way as we start to recover," Higgs said.
The two-household bubble system is one of the first steps taken in New Brunswick to loosen public health measures meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.
"Some of the confusion around it is that 'Oh, well I have four children so I'll be in bubbles separately with each one of them' and no, that's not how the program works. If you choose a family then you both reciprocate, it's not like you can choose somebody else and they choose somebody else -- you're together," he said.
Until Friday, New Brunswickers were to self-isolate and only interact with members of their immediate household.
The Atlantic province announced the easing of physical distancing measures on April 24 after its seventh straight day with no new COVID-19 cases. There have been no new cases reported since.
New Brunswick is also among four other provinces and territories that have recorded zero COVID-19 fatalities to date, including the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut and Prince Edward Island.
"My congratulations goes to so many people throughout the entire province, not only all of those central workers that have made this possible. There are people that have followed the compliance rules and stayed very closely guarded around the public health requirements, saying and reminding each other to stay focused on the compliance," Higgs said.
As part of the first stage, parks and beaches have also been reopened, golf courses are back in business, universities and colleges can open parts of their campuses for students in certain circumstances, and religious services can be held again, as long as they are outdoors with physical distancing measures in place.
However, Higgs added that the easing of restrictions and the use of 'household bubbles' may be put on hold if the province sees a sudden spike in infections.
"We're in a good position but we can't lose this," Higgs said. "We are expecting to see some increases with this opening -- this is not to be unexpected, and we're working with public health as we monitor that. But the worst thing that could happen right now is in terms of our own complacency…
"We're not out of the woods [and] we won't be out of the woods until there's a vaccine."
Higgs said his province has plans in place to "do kind of a SWAT testing program" should there be an increase in cases and hospital admissions.
"If we had three totally independent community transmissions over a period of time -- I think it's over a period of like six days -- that would be a trigger to say 'OK, we have isolated cases here in our province, we don't have any source of tracking them, there's an issue'," Higgs said.
"How we manage that could cause us to regress in our opening guidelines and to move back," he added.
There is no timeline for when phase two of New Brunswick's recovery plan, which allows some business to reopen, will begin. Higgs said precautionary safety measures must be in place to ensure the safety of employees and customers.
"We have to be sure that they're ready, so we will be working with businesses one at a time. They will show us or provide a plan to us how they're going to meet the public health requirements, and we in turn would say 'OK, that's good to go' or 'No, you need to do something more,' and then we'll follow up with compliance and surveillance from our safety officers," he said.
Higgs said he is "cautiously optimistic" phase one of the plan will be a success and that the province will be able to move into phase two in the coming weeks.
"We need to make sure that we exercise due diligence and we keep the COVID cases [at] zero," he said. "Let's not let this get away from us."