Be Social Wise- Guidance for Social Gatherings during COVID-19

Last revised on September 30, 2020

Questions and proposals related to event formats permissible under Provincial Orders, including drive-in and drive-thru events, can be directed to

To report a mass gathering, please contact 311 for assistance.

Ottawa Public Health continues to advise that limiting activities to members of your own household remains important to limit the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. Physical distancing of at least two (2) metres from non-household members should be maintained.

During times of the year when celebrations are happening: 

  • limit gatherings with others in person to celebrate 
  • use technology to connect with others 
  • spend more time with your own family who live with you 
  • create new traditions at home, cook your favourite food together, decorate together, play games together for example. 

Learn more on the Framework for Reopening our Province: Stage 3.

Being apart from family and friends can be very difficult for all of us. It's normal for situations like COVID-19 to affect your mental health. Everyone experiences these events in their own way. It is completely normal to feel stress and concern during these times and so it is important to practice positive coping strategies. 

Below is a listing of Mental Health Resources available to you. 

If you are in crisis, please contact the Mental Health Crisis Line (24 hours a day/7 day a week) at 613-722-6914 or if outside Ottawa toll-free at 1-866-996-0991. 

If you (or your child) are experiencing thoughts of suicide or harming yourself, please call 9-1-1. 

For more support and help, visit our mental health webpage

It is imperative that everyone in Ottawa practice physical distancing and avoid groups to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Visit the Government of Canada's website for more information.

 Previous guidance
On March 17, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced that it is taking decisive action by making an order declaring an emergency under s 7.0.1 (1) the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. As a result of this declaration and its associated orders, the following establishments are legally required to close immediately:
  • All facilities providing indoor recreational programs including EarlyON Child and Family Centres;
  • All public libraries;
  • All private schools as defined in the Education Act;
  • All licensed child care centres;
  • All bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeout food and delivery;
  • All theatres including those offering live performances of music, dance, and other art forms, as well as cinemas that show movies; and
  • Concert venues.

Further, all organized public events of over fifty people are also prohibited, including parades and events and communal services within places of worship. These orders were approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and will remain in place until March 31, 2020, at which point they will be reassessed and considered for extension, unless this order is terminated earlier. This order does not apply to child care providers overseen by licensed agencies or unlicensed home child care providers. The Province recognizes that there will be many additional questions and is committed to providing additional information on an ongoing basis.

On March 16, 2020, Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Ministry of Health, has now advised cancelling events or gatherings over 50 people because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 15th, 2020 Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health, urges people to cancel events of all sizes and limit unimportant trips out of their homes, in order to reduce transmission. 

In accordance with that, the following information should be used to properly assess the risks associated with any gatherings when the limitations have been lifted.

Large gatherings (e.g., planned or spontaneous large events) are all different, having unique factors such as population attending the event, crowd density, and geographic location, which can affect the spread of illnesses at an event. Therefore, on a case-by-case basis, event organizers and planners should consider health risk factors below when deciding about hosting, postponing, or cancelling mass gatherings during the COVID-19 outbreak. These risk factors can also be found in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) Risk-informed decision-making for mass gatherings during COVID-19 global outbreak guideline.

In addition to routine infection prevention and control best practices to prevent the spread of germs (e.g., regular cleaning of surfaces, hand washing stations, increased access to alcohol-based hand sanitizer, coughing into sleeve, not touching one’s face), it is recommended that event planners and organizers take extra precautions to decrease the potential spread of COVID-19.

Extra precautions could include:

  • reducing the number of participants or changing the venue to prevent crowding;
  • staggering arrivals and departures;
  • providing packaged refreshments instead of a buffet;
  • increasing access to handwashing stations;
  • promoting personal protective practices (hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, staying home if ill);
  • offering virtual or live-streamed activities; and
  • changing the event program to reduce high risk activities such as those that require physical contact between participants.

If these steps are not possible, organizers may decide to cancel or postpone an event based on PHAC’s Risk-informed decision-making for mass gatherings during COVID-19 global outbreak guideline.

Since mass gathering events, their settings, and participants/attendees are generally unique, the advice varies regarding which measures should be implemented. The following risk considerations related to the event, the disease and the environment/setting are provided support when inform decision-making.

The risk considerations are listed below, including their importance in high, medium or low.


Population Attending the Event

Risk ConsiderationsImportance
Are persons attending the event coming from regions where there is community transmission of COVID-19 or from countries with unreliable surveillance of the disease? See affected areas list. High importance
Are persons attending the event members of a professional group that might have increased risk of infection? Medium importance
Are persons attending the event from demographic groups at greater risk of severe disease, such as older adults? High importance
Are persons attending the event at greater risk of spreading the disease, such as young children? Medium importance
Are persons attending the event members of critical infrastructure roles, such as healthcare workers? High importance
How many people are expected to attend the event? High importance

 Event activities

Risk ConsiderationsImportance
Will participants be participating in activities that promote transmission? High importance


Risk ConsiderationsImportance
Is the event being held indoors, outdoors or both? Medium importance
Will participants be consistently within 2 metres of one another? Medium importance

Event duration

Risk ConsiderationsImportance
How long will participants be gathered at the event? Medium importance

Event resources

Risk ConsiderationsImportance
Will hand hygiene stations be available throughout the venue? Medium importance
Can event venue(s) be configured to maintain a 2 metre distance between participants? Medium importance
Will there be health professionals or first responders at the event to screen and/or attend to someone who may be symptomatic? Low importance

These risk factors can also be found in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) Risk-informed decision-making for mass gatherings during COVID-19 global outbreak guideline.


Be Social Wise

While some people are more vulnerable to complications from COVID-19, we are all susceptible of getting COVID-19  and spreading it to others. This is why we must be mindful of our risks when socializing lest we bring it home to our loved ones or  spread it to those in our social circle, colleagues and other acquaintances. 

Being Social Wise means you CAN BE SOCIAL, but you must limit your close contacts to your social/family bubble or circle to the same 10 (or less) people.  Small outdoor parties are wise, large house and/or cottage parties are unwise (and dangerous).   

We understand that the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is real.  But if you are Social Wise, the only thing you will miss out on is getting sick and getting others sick.  Don’t let anyone burst your bubble.  Wear a mask in enclosed public placesenclosed common areas of multi-unit residential buildings and in certain outdoor public spaces and outdoors when physical distancing is difficult, isolate yourself when you are sick, stay two metres away from those not in your social circle and exercise proper hand hygiene. 

We can still visit with our friends and loved ones, but we have to do so in a way that reduces the risk for transmission. Remember, people can be infectious without any symptoms.

To protect yourself and others, be “Social Wise.” This means:

  • wearing a mask indoors, in enclosed common areas of multi-unit residential buildings and in designated outdoor areas and when you can’t physically distance. 
  • limiting the number of people you have in your backyard or at the cottage.
  • planning for how you will maintain distancing among households and their social circles, avoiding handshakes and hugs to maintain physical distancing and having your mask and hand sanitizer with you – consider them as valuable as your wallet and cell phone.
  • downloading the COVID Alert app, a joint Federal-Provincial initiative that will help alert users of a potential exposure to COVID-19.
  • leaving any situation if you’re uncomfortable. And if you’re sick, please stay home.

We can still be social – we just have to do things a little differently. Be Social Wise and assess the risk of your activities.

Three women wearing masks. The words appear below them in pink.Partying during COVID-19? 

1. Plan to have the party outdoors

The risk of transmission is lower outside. If you have a party indoors, keep the windows open and don’t use fans because the air circulated by fans can further spread the virus. Stay two metres away from people who are not in your social/family bubble (your bubble = 10 or less people). 

2. Make it short (and after supper)

A shorter party = less risk of transmission, and that’s good. Having friends over for supper complicates things and increases the chance of sharing items and breaking the two metre rule when eating at the same table. You also need to remove your mask to eat and drink

3. Have a smaller party

Fewer people = fewer risks of COVID-19 transmission.

4. Prepare your “survival kit”: disinfectant wipes or cloth and soapy water

Before your guests arrive, clean surfaces that are often touched (doorknobs, light switches, table, bathroom, etc.)

5. Make sure there is access to water and soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizers (ie: Purell)

For water, the hose in your yard is an option or you can use a water container that has a faucet.

6. Ask your guests to wash their hands when they arrive and when they leave.

Make a point to tell you guest ahead of time that they should wash their hands.

7. Set aside a bathroom for your guests, if possible

Prepare a poster that reminds your guests to wash their hands before and after using the toilet.

8. Have masks on hand for people who don’t bring their own

Give your guests masks and remind them that even with a mask on, it is important to stay two metres away from each other.

9. Make a list of your guests

Ottawa Public Health will ask you for the list if it is later determined that one of your guests had COVID-19.

10. Be the boss of the party

Tell your guests ahead of time that they should stay home if they have any symptoms of COVID-19 and that you are taking steps to lower the risk of transmitting the virus.

Visit our party safe page for more party tips.

Thanks to Santé Montréal for sharing their Party Safe tips with us!

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