Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Public health orders limiting social gatherings indoors are now extended across B.C., and masks are required in all indoor public and retail spaces after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a new slate of public health orders for the entire province Thursday.
The new health orders go into effect province-wide from Nov. 19 until Dec. 7 at midnight,
B.C. residents are ordered to only socialize with those in their immediate household, and no social gatherings of any size are to take place including public venues with controlled settings and fewer than 50 people. “Immediate households” can include roommates, and those who live alone can meet with one or two people who they are regularly in contact with.
All indoor and outdoor events as defined in the Gathering and Events Order are not allowed to take place until further notice, Henry said Thursday. Places of worship are to have no in-person services as well, however funerals, weddings and baptisms can proceed in a limited way with a maximum of 10 people, with no associated receptions inside or outside at any venue. Gatherings including AA meetings and after-school programs may continue to take place with appropriate measures.
“It also does not apply to those very important work functions that we have. What we are talking about is reducing our social activities both in our home and outside our home and around our work periods. So if I work in social services and I need to check on families this does not apply to that situation,” Henry said. “As well, if we have people who are doing work in our house, grandparents who are coming to pick up children, those are not social gatherings. Those are essential functions that happen in and out of our home and so those are not affected by this order.”
All businesses, recreation centres or other organizations that operate indoor group physical activities including spin classes, hot yoga and high-intensity interval training must stop until further notice, Henry said. All other group fitness activities indoors can continue to operate, Henry said, but must adhere to the updated guidance the province is developing. No travel for sports outside of the community can take place, and no spectators are allowed.
Henry also announced the minister of public safety is issuing requirements for the wearing of masks in all indoor public and retail spaces for both staff and customers, except when eating or drinking. The order does not apply to those with disabilities or the inability to wear a mask.
“This means if you are at work, at your desk, you do not need to wear a mask, but if you are in a shared workspace, a common space or a public space like elevators, hallways and other common areas, you do. If you are behind service counters and you have plexiglass between you and everyone else, you do not need to wear a mask unless there are others back there with you. If you are serving customers, you do need to wear a mask,” Henry said. “If you are in a restaurant you need to wear a mask when you are not at your table. That includes coming into the restaurant, leaving the restaurant, going to the washroom. And staff must wear masks when they are interacting with other staff and with the tables.”
Henry suggested B.C. residents suspend non-essential travel outside of their public health regions. Henry urged residents to stay in their community as much as possible, noting exceptions for doctor’s appointments, work purposes and other essential reasons.
“What does this mean? It means, yes, you can move about within your region. If you live in Penticton you can go to Summerland. If you live in Victoria though, and you want to go to Tofino, not such a good idea right now. If you need to go to a store in another community then plan ahead and go as infrequently as possible for this next short period of time. If you are thinking about skiing go to a local mountain,” Henry said. “If you are in doubt, postpone it.”
Henry said she is not putting a travel order in place, but the province is looking to residents to limit recreational and social travel both within the province and other parts of Canada.
Henry hopes the new orders will create a “clear and notable difference” to return to the levels of transmission seen early on in the pandemic.
B.C. reported 538 new cases of COVID-19 (nine of those epidemiologically linked) on Thursday, 28 of those cases in the Interior Health region. There are 6,929 active cases in province with 217 people in hospital, 59 of whom are in critical or intensive care. A total of 9,929 people are under active public health monitoring province-wide.
“As we know we have seen a significant rise in new cases, hospitalizations and, tragically, deaths. Four weeks ago we had about 175 cases a day and I was anxious then. Yesterday we had over 700 people in our province affected and we know that our hospitals are getting stretched our ICU capacity is getting stretched our communities are suffering,” Henry said.
While initially the stricter public health orders were put in place only in the Lower Mainland, Henry said the numbers of cases are now stressing healthcare systems across the province.
“As we’ve been watching so carefully over the last few weeks it has become apparent that this surge in transmission is happening across the province. We are now seeing increased activity in terms of community transmission, outbreaks and effects on our healthcare system in every health authority in the province. So now we need to do more,” Henry said.
People need to keep essential businesses, activities and schools open and operating, but the new orders look to stem the tide to prevent healthcare systems from being overloaded, Henry said.
“We need to relieve the stress on our healthcare system right now. Right now, we are holding our own, but we know that if people cannot access healthcare then it is not only people with COVID-19, but people with other urgent health issues that will suffer,” Henry said.