B.C. puts new regional health-order restrictions in place as COVID-19 cases spike

Restrictions target social gatherings, travel, group activities and workplaces

B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry issued a series of regional health orders and strong recommendations on November 7 that will be in effect for two weeks starting at 10 p.m. tonight as a result of what she called a "worrisome increase of people with serious [COVID-19] illness requiring hospitalization and intensive care." 

Her focus at a rare Saturday news conference was on social gatherings, travel, group physical activities, indoor group activities and workplaces.
The new directives will be in effect in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions, with the exception of the Central Coast in Bella Coola Valley.

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"Right now, it is very important that everyone in these areas of Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health significantly reduce their social interactions," Henry said.

"There are to be no social gatherings of any size with anyone other than your immediate household."

Previously, Henry had said that indoor gatherings with fewer than 50 people were OK but this order supersedes that directive. 

Still, without elaborate explanation, she left wriggle-room for some social gatherings.

"Funerals and weddings may proceed with your immediate household but there are to be no associated receptions inside or outside your home or at any public or community-based venues," she said. 

Another set of statements that were seemingly at odds were that Henry first said that she did not consider going to churches or other houses of worship to be social gatherings, then she said: "I know it has been hard for many people not to come together and worship together or have their ceremonies together, but we cannot do that yet."

She stressed that the new directives issued today were for a limited time, and said "this is what we need to do now."

With regard to travel, Henry said she is strongly recommending that travel into and out of areas of Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health should be limited to essential travel only.

Ferry traffic can flow, but passengers are supposed to only be travelling because they need to for an essential reason.

Henry called the directive an "order," but later also called it a "recommendation in the very strongest terms."

She said that the new directive is like the one that was in place in the early days of the pandemic, when people were only supposed to be travelling on essential trips.

Henry never officially barred retailers from opening in B.C., even though most did – particularly fashion retailers – out of a sense of public duty, and people would not spread the virus. 

"Those who live outside the affected areas [the Lower Mainland and Metro Vancouver] should not visit unless it is urgently required, or essential, and travel through only when needed," she said. 

Henry then segued to speak about sports.

"Travel for sports, into and out of this region, is suspended for this period of time," she said.

Henry said group physical activities have led to a significant spread of COVID-19 – the virus that has caused a global pandemic. 

"As of today, businesses, recreation centres or other organizations that organize or operate indoor group physical activities, must stop holding these activities, until updated COVID-19 safety plans are in place so they can be held safely," Henry said.

Those updated safety plans would need to be approved by local medical health officers, she added. 

"This includes spin classes, yoga classes, group fitness, dance classes, or other group indoor activities, where people are increasing their heart rate," she said. "We have seen repeatedly, not just here, but around the world, that these are venues that we see rapid spread of this virus, even with people who don't recognize that they are ill."

The new ban includes indoor competitions and games, including sports such as minor hockey.

Party buses, she said, are also banned.

When it comes to the workplace, Henry said she wants employers to revert back to having employees work from home as much as possible.

"We need to consider going back to actively supporting people working from home in certain businesses, if that is possible," she said.

"All businesses and work sites must conduct active in-person screening according to our COVID safety plans for their workers on site now," she said.

She wants business owners to take another look at their COVID-19 safety plan, and emphasize to staff and customers how important the plans are.
"Workplaces must ensure that all workers and customers maintain appropriate physical distancing, wear masks as appropriate, and be especially vigilant in small-office spaces, in break rooms and kitchens," she said.

This, she said, is where the province has seen people transmit the virus in work settings.

"If we cannot maintain those plans, then local medical health officers will shut those businesses down," Henry said.

If restaurants cannot adhere to COVID-19 safety plans, Henry suggested that they revert to take-out only service, much like they did during the first wave of this pandemic, in the spring. 

Henry's news conference also included new data for the extent of the spread of COVID-19 in B.C. in the past day.

There were 567 people diagnosed with COVID-19 infections in the 22 hours since the province last released numbers. This comes on the heels of a record 589 people being infected in a 24-hour period yesterday – a record for B.C.

The Fraser Health region remains the hardest hit part of the province. 

Here is the breakdown of all detected COVID-19 cases in B.C., by health region, with new cases identified overnight in brackets:
• 5,491 in Vancouver Coastal Health (122);
• 10,520 in Fraser Health (411);
• 289 in Island Health (3);
• 867 in Interior Health (22);
• 459 in Northern Health (nine); and
• 90 people who reside outside Canada (no change).

More than 100 people are in hospitals, with 31 in intensive care units. One person passed away in the past day, raising the death toll from the virus in B.C. to 276.

One new outbreak at a seniors' living facility is at the Residences in Mission, Henry said.

Fraser Health, in a separate statement on November 7, said that the outbreak at PICS assisted-living facility in Surrey has been declared over.

Acute care facilities with outbreaks include Ridge Meadows Hospital, Langley Memorial Hospital and Surrey Memorial Hospital. 

Dozens of other outbreaks remain at seniors' care homes and living facilities.

Ones that have not yet been declared over in the Vancouver Coastal Health region include:
• Haro Park Centre long-term care facility in Vancouver;
• Lakeview Care Centre in Vancouver;
• Louis Brier Home & Hospital in Vancouver;
• Royal Arch Masonic Home long-term care facility in Vancouver;
• Three Links Care Centre long-term care facility in Vancouver;
• Banfield Pavilion, the 4th Floor West long-term care facility, in Vancouver;
• Yaletown House long-term care facility in Vancouver;
• Pinegrove Place in Richmond; and
• Hamilton Village Care Centre long-term care facility in Richmond.

In ​Fraser Health, active outbreaks are at:
• Northcrest Care Centre in Delta;
• Fort Langley Seniors Community in Fort Langley;
• Suncreek Village in Surrey;
• Tabor Home in Abbotsford;
• Agassiz Seniors Community in Agassiz;
• Amenida Seniors Community in Surrey;
• Belvedere Care Centre in Coquitlam;
• CareLife Fleetwood in Surrey;
• Evergreen Baptist Care Society long-term care facility in White Rock;
• Fair Haven Homes Burnaby Lodge in Burnaby;
• Fellburn Care Centre long-term care facility in Burnaby;
• Fellburn Care Center - PATH unit in Burnaby;
• Laurel Place long-term care facility in Surrey;
• Mayfair Terrace Retirement Residence in Port Coquitlam;
• Hawthorne Seniors Care Community in Port Coquitlam;
• Rosemary Heights Seniors Village independent-, assisted- and long-term care facility in Surrey;
• St. Michael's Centre long-term care facility in Burnaby;
• The Gateway Assisted Living for Seniors in Surrey; and
• White Rock Senior Village in White Rock;
• Good Samaritan Delta View Care Center 2 long-term care facility in Delta.

Other seniors' homes with outbreaks are the Rotary Manor Dawson Creek facility in Dawson Creek, in Northern Health; and Village at Mill Creek in Kelowna, in the Interior Health region.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom 

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