Hoping to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19 in B.C., the province’s top doctor announced several temporary and region-specific public health orders Saturday.
The new orders are for the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions and are in place for the next two weeks, from Saturday at 10 p.m. through to Monday, Nov. 23, at noon.
The Central Coast and Bella Coola Valley, which are both in VCH, are exempt from those restrictions, however. Henry said those areas are exempt because they’re geographically “quite different,” adding that they tend to interact with the Interior Health region more than the Lower Mainland regions.
The new orders focus on four areas, Henry said: social gatherings, travel, indoor group physical activities and workplace safety.
“We made the decision that we needed to take time-limited, additional measures to reduce the rapidly increasing transmission rates here,” Henry said about the two health authorities impacted by the restrictions.
“It does not mean we’re out of the woods and we can back off in other areas of the province. It just means we need to keep holding the fort there.”
For social gatherings, Henry said there are to be none of any size with anyone besides your immediate household. That includes indoor gatherings of fewer than 50 people, even in controlled settings.
“I know this is hard. I know we don’t want to have to be doing this,” she said. “This is a time-limited order. But this is what we need to do now.”
Weddings and funerals may proceed, Henry said, but only among members of an immediate household. Receptions aren’t permitted, even if they’re outside.
Henry did hint at an exemption for those who live alone, however.
“It’s very challenging for those who live alone. Yes, those are where you can have those very small number of people who are in your bubble,” she said.
“So it really is about looking at your household and the connections that you have and reducing those social connections where we have larger groups of people.”
Henry said that in those cases, it should be “one or two people that you are close with, who you considering your family, your bubble, your household.”
Henry also clarified that, for the purpose of these orders, churches aren’t considered “social gatherings” and the 50-person limit with physical distancing measures in place still applies.
Dix encouraged everyone to reach out to others who are isolated during this time.
“Reach out in these times and talk more and be available more on the phone,” he said.
When it comes to travel, Henry said travel to areas in and outside Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health should be limited to “essential travel only.”
But Henry said that’s currently a “recommendation in the very strongest terms,” rather than an order.
“Right now we need to go back to what we were doing in March and April and May, where it was essential travel only,” she said.
“Right now we are advising in the strongest terms that people need to stay in their local community, reduce their social interactions and travel when it’s essential.”
The order does say, however, that travel for sports in and out of the region is suspended for this time.
Indoor physical activities
“In terms of group physical activities, this is an area where we have seen spread in multiple different settings,” she said.
Because of that, businesses, recreation centres or other facilities that organize or operate indoor group physical activities must stop holding those activities “until updated COVID-19 safety plans are in place,” Henry said.
Henry also explained that the rule applies to “indoor group activities.” Gyms where people go to exercise individually and where equipment is spread out can stay open.
“It’s those group activities that are done in an indoor setting that we’re talking about,” Henry said.
While individual practices and drills are allowed, indoor sports where physically distancing can’t be maintained must be suspended for the two-week period.
For workplaces, Henry said businesses must conduct “active, in-person screening according to COVID safety plans for their workers on-site.”
Businesses must also ensure that workers and customers maintain physical distancing and wear masks when appropriate.
Henry said businesses who don’t follow COVID-19 safety plans “religiously” are at risk of being shut down.
The top doctor also said businesses should consider “actively supporting people working from home” where possible.
Restrictions to party buses, limos
Henry announced a separate order for party buses and group limos. They must stop operating “until further notice,” she said.
“As you know, provincial health orders are always a last resort,” she said. “But right now, these additional measures are needed.”
The announcement was made during a rare weekend COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. The pair have not provided regular weekend updates since May, when the province entered the second phase of its pandemic response.
During that update, Henry announced an additional 567 cases of COVID-19 in the province.
“Now is the time we need to do this,” Henry said. “Despite being tired, despite the uncertainty, despite what has been happening for the last few months, this is the road we must walk.”