Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Canadian Social Connections: A Thematic Analysis

Catherine Lowe, Maliha Rafiq, Lyndsay Jerusha MacKay, Nicole Letourneau, Cheuk Fan Ng, Janine Keown-Gerrard, Trevor Gilbert, Kharah M. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. Responses to the pandemic response disrupted Canadian social connections in complex ways; because social connections are determinants of health and well-being, their disruption could adversely affect health and well-being. Moreover, understanding how pandemics and public health responses affect social connections could inform pandemic recovery strategy and public health approaches designed for future pandemics. The purpose of this study is to understand experiences of pandemic impact on social connections over the pandemic. Methods: A sample of 343 Canadian adults was recruited through Athabasca University and social media. Participants were predominantly White (81%) and female (88%). After the pandemic onset, participants responded to open-ended questions about the impact of the pandemic on and any changes to social connections at three time points (baseline, and three- and 6 months from study entry). Responses were categorized into epochs by date (April-June 2020 [Spring]; July-August 2020 [Summer]; September 2020-January 2021 [Fall/Winter]). Qualitative thematic analysis was used to code themes for each epoch. Results: Negative impact of the pandemic (37–45%), loss of social connections (32–36%), and alternative means of connection (26–32%) were prominent themes across the epochs. Restrictions to face-to-face connections were largest in spring (9%) and lowest in the Summer (4%). Conversely, participants increasingly reported limited contact or communication into the Fall and Winter (6–12%) as pandemic restrictions in Canada were reinstated. Conclusions: The COVID-19 pandemic threatens social connections, with negative impacts that fluctuated with COVID-19 case rates and subsequent pandemic restrictions. These findings could be used to identify targets for social supports during the pandemic recovery, and to adjust public health strategies for future pandemics that minimize impact on social connections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-101
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb. 2023


  • COVID-19
  • health psychology
  • pandemic impact
  • public health
  • social connection
  • thematic analysis


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