Canada’s deficit could hit $343 billion this year. Even so, some two million Canadians may remain unemployed, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And in case that’s not enough bad news, things could get worse. If, for example, a second wave of the coronavirus inundates us this fall. If the economy doesn’t pick up as expected. Or if — as seems more likely based on the model set by the U.S. — people abuse their new-found freedoms.

My mind wanders -- whether as a result of age or of four months’ social isolation — to the concept of bubbles.

Children love blowing bubbles. They blow bubbles in the bath. They run around the yard leaving trails of bubbles behind them. They try to catch those shimmering, shining bubbles without bursting them.

Bubbles are fascinating. Real, but not real. Some bubbles pop when they touch other bubbles; some merge into bigger bubbles.

I remember community picnics where some of the bubbles looked like oversized bologna, bigger than the kids who blew them. They drifted overhead. Until they popped and showered droplets of glycerine and detergent on the adults below.

In today’s COVID-19 world, though, “bubble” takes on new meaning. We’re not thinking of bubbles from the outside anymore; we’re thinking of the bubbles we’re inside.

A “bubble” now refers to a small and exclusive group within which the coronavirus is no longer a threat.

Inside a bubble, we haven’t been in contact with anyone exposed to the coronavirus. We can relax a little more. We’re safe.

Unless someone bursts that fragile bubble.

Which brings to mind another silly game from childhood. Perhaps only boys enjoyed this prank.

When our parents introduced us to a stiff and staid elderly acquaintance, we shook hands properly, while saying “This is how we make love on Mars.”

It was amazing how quickly that hand was withdrawn.

It made shaking hands feel promiscuous.

We don’t shake hands these days. Today’s emphasis is on washing hands, not shaking them.

But the sexual reference still has relevance. Because, as we’ve often been warned, when you have unprotected sex with someone, you’re also having sex with every person that someone has ever had sex with.

The same holds for the chain of contacts from COVID-19. A casual conversation in a hotel bar infects a whole conference, who carry it to dozens of cities, to…

You don’t have to have sex with all those contacts. Just shaking hands is enough. Or even breathing the same air.

The World Health Organization has finally admitted that COVID-19 can get transmitted through the air.

As a parallel to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), then, simply breathing the air that someone else has breathed connects you to the air breathed by everyone that person has been close to in the last two weeks.

Although STDs remain potentially dangerous forever; coronaviruses die if they can’t find a new carrier within a couple of weeks.

Still, two weeks is a lot of time — unless we’ve taken up the lifestyle of a Tibetan Buddhist hermit. Everyone encounters significant numbers of people over two weeks. Especially anyone who works in retail stores or serves customers.

“Fear has become the most pervasive element in the lives of the modern citizen,” Father Harry Clarke wrote in a letter to the

editor.

He was probably right in the early days of COVID-19. No one knew who had been exposed, who might be transmitting the virus, even unknowingly. My friends belong to the age bracket considered at highest risk. And most of us were unwilling to take risks.

So, to borrow a term from rigid religious groups, we shunned each other.

But as we have become more

accustomed to the concept of bubbles, I think I’m seeing fear replaced by trust. We trust each not to burst our fragile bubbles of security.

That trust has to extend beyond immediate family, because bubbles bump into each other.

If I trust you, I must also trust the members within your bubble.

And so the bubbles grow.

The four Atlantic provinces —Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland/

Labrador – have declared themselves a bubble, within which residents may move relatively freely without fear of contamination.

B.C. is almost its own bubble, although Dr. Bonnie Henry has not yet officially declared bubble-dom. By comparison with the U.S., the whole of Canada might qualify as a bubble.

Dr. Henry says, “Be kind, be calm, and be safe.”

I say, “Be free. But be careful. And don’t burst any bubbles.

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca