Grandparent holding hands with grandchild. (Pixabay)

Grandparent holding hands with grandchild. (Pixabay)

Can grandparents remain in our social bubbles when kids return to school?

Dr. Barry Pakes, a public health physician and professor at the University of Toronto, says there is plenty to consider

With children going back to school across the country, some infectious disease experts say it’s time to rethink our social bubbles in order to protect our most vulnerable populations from contracting COVID-19.

That could mean veering back to virtual visits for grandma and grandpa, or at the very least, reintroducing distancing and mask-wearing when seeing them.

Dr. Barry Pakes, a public health physician and professor at the University of Toronto, says there is plenty to consider in deciding whether to kick grandparents out of your bubble, including how old your kids are, how big their classes are, and whether their schools are implementing remote or in-person learning.

“It’s going to be hard for parents to factor in all those elements and make a decision, but I think the simplest thing is just rethinking how our bubbles are looking and potentially reintroducing more masking and distancing around people who are vulnerable,” Pakes said.

“Certainly distancing completely from grandparents is going to be the safest option, but that isn’t going to be in the best interest of everybody’s mental health.”

Most provinces cap social circles or bubbles at 10 people, though some, including Alberta, allow 15. Bubbles are safe in theory if everyone in one bubble agrees to only interact with people in that same circle.

But with children going back to school and interacting with teachers and other students every day, our bubbles are suddenly expanding “almost infinitely,” Pakes said.

And while he doesn’t think we need to throw bubbles out the window completely, we do need to reassess them.

Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta, agrees, saying the “idea of a bubble still has validity.

“But as that bubble expands, it becomes weaker and weaker. The more individuals in that bubble, the more likely there’s going to be a breach. … And soon the bubble becomes so porous that it really has no protective value at all.”

Schwartz says it’s a “delicate balance” determining when a bubble has become too expansive, but limiting class size in schools can help it from getting out of control.

“The smaller that bubble, the more hope there is for it to retain its integrity,” he said.

Individual families will have to determine the level of risk they’re comfortable with when debating excluding grandparents from their social circles, Schwartz said.

The more people students interact with on a daily basis, the higher the risk of being exposed to the novel coronavirus. And while most young people won’t experience bad COVID outcomes, older people are at a greater risk for severe illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says risk increases with age, so people in their 60s or 70s are more likely to experience severe outcomes than those in their 40s or 50s. The greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older.

Schwartz says waiting until the pandemic is over before grandparents can see their grandchildren again isn’t practical.

“The virus isn’t going away any time soon,” he said. “But as long as people are educated about the activities that put them at risk and the ways to mitigate that, I think we can make informed decisions.”

For instance, it’s best to avoid hugging or touching, especially without a mask, Schwartz said, and outdoor meet-ups are still preferred to indoor events.

As the weather gets cooler and social activities are forced indoors, however, Schwartz says well-ventilated areas — while distance is maintained or masks are being worn — can still be safe.

Pakes says social bubbles offer just one layer or protection, and things like hand-washing, mask-wearing and physical distancing shouldn’t be ignored, especially when it comes to interacting with more vulnerable segments of population.

He says now is a good time to gradually reintroduce those measures for grandparents already in our bubbles, rather than shutting them off completely as soon as children return to class.

“You don’t want kids to link going to school with not being able to see their grandparents,” he said. “But if families can (shift) these interactions, consider doing things outside while it’s still somewhat warm out, we can mimic normal as much as possible.”

Dr. Zahid Butt, an assistant professor and infectious disease specialist at the University of Waterloo, says now is a critical time to take extra precautions when it comes to older populations, however.

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in parts of Canada, with 3,955 people testing positive last week — a significant jump from the 3,044 positive tests in the week prior.

And since we may not know the potential transmission impact of reopening school for at least a month, Butt says it’s best to avoid interacting with grandparents altogether until then.

Bringing back socializing methods used early in the pandemic, like Facetiming or conversing from the front yard while grandma stays on the porch, could be temporary solutions.

“That would be a better approach at this time because we’re not really sure what will happen when all of the children return to school,” he said. “So at least for the initial weeks or maybe months, I think it’s better to hold off the (in-person) interactions.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Three new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

The Central zone sits at 849 active cases, with 52 people in hospital and 10 in the ICU.

(File photo)
After several years in limbo, Parkland Manor to be torn down

Rimoka Housing Foundation has received funding and approval for the demolition

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton, Friday, March 20, 2020. Hinshaw says residents in long-term care and supportive living facilities will remain the priority as the province grapples with a looming slowdown in COVID-19 vaccine supply. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta long-term care residents remain priority in looming slowdown of COVID vaccine

There are 119 patients in intensive care and 1,463 people have died

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
‘Gut punch’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit

Kenney said he was upset the U.S. wouldn’t consult with Canada first before acting

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Calgary flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

Most Read