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Rena Heer at her home in Port Moody, B.C., on July 9, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

When relatives visit Rena Heer’s mother at her apartment in Surrey, B.C., they are greeted by Ms. Heer standing in the patio doorway holding a box of masks and a plastic spray bottle filled with alcohol.

“I say, ‘If you’re going to use the bathroom, you’re going to need to use the mask,‘” said Ms. Heer, a communications consultant in Port Moody, B.C. “‘If you’re going to stay out here on the patio, I can spray your hands. Have a seat, get comfortable and I’ll bring you a cup of tea.’ Of course, that then gets sanitized before it comes back into the house.”

Her mother, who recently had knee surgery, sits just inside the patio doors in her living room, the guests outside, two metres apart. Once, an aunt broke protocol and approached Ms. Heer’s two children for hugs.

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“I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop!’” Ms. Heer recalled. “My mother was so offended that I held her off that way and was just so rude.”

For now, Ms. Heer’s relatives tolerate her hyper-vigilance: They know it comes from caring, that she is what she calls a “hall monitor type” who follows all the rules. Still, Ms. Heer sometimes worries she comes off as impolite, extreme or “bloody crazy.” She struggles with a trade-off: Socialize with abandon and risk getting sick, or maintain distance and risk hurting people’s feelings.

As provinces re-open, Canadians emerge from self-isolation and household bubbles expand, tense moments are flaring up between those who want to reconnect in person and those who remain wary. With government lockdowns loosening, Canadians are left on their own negotiating uncomfortable decisions about face-to-face reunions with their loved ones: how to meet, keep distance and dodge hugs.

Social planning is particularly fraught in families and circles where people have discovered in the pandemic that they have radically different approaches to personal risk, with some continuing to hunker down while others rush patios, malls and hair salons.

“This phase with reopening and bigger groups and expanding bubbles is so confusing,” Ms. Heer said. “We’re in such a weird time right now. Nobody knows what to do.”

Ottawa blogger Loukia Zigoumis recently traversed the new social terrain with friends as they planned an evening on a patio. Ms. Zigoumis compiled a list of the city’s more spacious patios where restaurant owners are diligently following physical-distancing rules.

“I was kind of like, ‘I’m not coming unless we go to one of these few places where I feel safe.’ They understand,” said Ms. Zigoumis, who wrote a children’s book about the health crisis called Together, Apart: Life During the Coronavirus.

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Things went less smoothly when Ms. Zigoumis ran into an acquaintance during a walk. “The lady said, ‘Can I give you a hug or are you still social distancing?’ I thought, what a weird way to put it, as if I’m weird for wanting to social distance.”

Since hugs outside the bubble remain off-limits in Ms. Zigoumis’s family, she demurred. “It was awkward, but I laughed it off,” she said. “Everybody does it at their own pace.”

Huggers and distance-keepers often privately hold unflattering assumptions about each other, according to Jillian Roberts, a psychologist and associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Victoria.

The relaxed camp sees the cautious camp as paranoid and neurotic, constantly reapplying hand sanitizer. The worriers see those who are more blasé about the pandemic as reckless, selfish, hedonistic and vain.

Prof. Roberts urged empathy and refraining from judgment, quoting British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry’s catchphrase: “Be kind, be calm and be safe.”

She recommends family and friends state their boundaries at the outset when planning a visit, so people aren’t veering away from kisses, offending their guests.

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“We should allow people to set the boundaries that are right for them, not ask too many questions, not put them on the spot to justify and explain, and respect and honour their decision,” Prof. Roberts said.

In Vancouver, Claire Padilla had been deliberating an invitation to a small get-together this weekend. Rain was in the forecast, which would send the group indoors. Ms. Padilla has never met four of the guests. After much consideration, she declined.

“My friends are really gregarious. One of them is from Montreal, so there’s the French kind of hugging and kissing,” said Ms. Padilla, a 64-year-old educator. “I can’t bring myself to spend three or four hours indoors in close proximity with that many people, with so much laughing and talking ‘moistly.’”

As she sidesteps social gatherings out of an abundance of caution, Ms. Padilla said she worries the invitations will stop: “I hope I have friends when this is all over.”

She found it easier to navigate these social landmines in spring, when Canadians were instructed to stay home. “Before, if you had friends who were a little more loosey-goosey, you could say, ‘We’re not allowed.’ There’s a lot more pressure now,” Ms. Padilla said. “The experiment is really, how comfortable do we feel with the risk?”

Humans diverge widely on that question, according to Colin Furness, a Toronto infection-control epidemiologist and an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Prof. Furness has seen two distinct groups emerge in the pandemic: “high-reacting” people who are extremely careful and aware, and “low-reacting” people who are “oblivious.”

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“When high-reacting people encounter low-reacting people, that’s when there’s tension,” he said.

As an epidemiologist, Prof. Furness naturally falls on the cautious side. But he has also grappled with these social questions as a parent. In March, some of his son’s friends flouted the rules out on playgrounds.

“I had to sit down and say, ‘What they’re doing is really, really dangerous – and Daddy knows,‘” he said. “Those are not fun conversations to have.”

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