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“Double bubbles,” Canada’s modest experiment in easing social distancing, should be a model for US

The United States is charging ahead with reopening. All 50 states are now moving to reopen their economies, even though only three meet basic criteria to do so safely. Coronavirus cases are rising in some states, yet public officials there are still choosing to open bars, restaurants, and more.

Meanwhile, Canada is trying out a much more modest experiment in easing social distancing. Based on early data, it seems to be working out.

Our northern neighbor has been doing far better than the US at keeping case numbers down, partly because its political system works. Its per capita Covid-19 death rate is roughly half that of America’s.

So, lately, some Canadian provinces have begun allowing people to form “double bubbles.” That means two households can now make a pact to hang out with — and even hug — each other, so long as they agree to stay distanced from everyone else. The hope is that doubling the family bubble will reduce isolation and its toll on mental health, while also helping with things like child care. This is meant to be an intermediate step before opening up further.

Canada borrowed the strategy from New Zealand, which used it to great effect before virtually eliminating the coronavirus. A few European countries, such as Germany, have also tried it before progressing to more drastic reopening measures.

In Canada, New Brunswick became the first province to permit its population to double-bubble on April 24. Newfoundland and Labrador followed on April 30. And Nova Scotia gave the go-ahead on May 15.

These provinces could afford to ease social distancing restrictions because they have very low case numbers. (Throughout all of May, none of them surged above 15 new cases per day.) It’s still deemed too risky to do this right now in Quebec or Ontario, where community transmission is much higher

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