As COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the province, B.C. announced new, temporary restrictions on social gatherings, travel and group physical activities for the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Fraser Health regions, with a couple exceptions.
Announcing 567 new cases of the virus on Saturday, Nov. 7, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said “urgent and focused action” is needed, particularly in the affected health regions. There were 122 new positive cases in the VCH region, of which Whistler is a part, and 411 in the Fraser Health zone as of Saturday.
“Right now, it is very important that everyone in these areas of Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health significantly reduce their social interactions,” said Henry in a rare weekend update. “I know this is hard. I know we don’t want to have to be doing this, but we need to support each other right now to make this break.”
In effect from 10 p.m. tonight until 3 p.m. on Nov. 23, the new orders limit social gatherings of any size to one’s immediate household. This supersedes the standing 50-person limit on group gatherings that had been in place for months.
Funerals and weddings will be allowed to proceed, provided they only involve one’s immediate household. No associated receptions, either at a home or in a public venue, will be permitted.
“This is a time-limited order, but this is what we need to do now,” Henry added.
Non-essential travel to and from the affected health regions will be strongly discouraged, which will have major implications for Whistler as resort businesses struggle to weather the slower shoulder season.
"Finally, we are strongly recommending travel into and out of these regions be limited to essential travel only and people within the regions stay within their local community, as much as possible. We ask those who live outside of the regions not to visit unless it is essential," Henry said. Sports-related travel into and out of the region is also suspended for the next two weeks.
Officials will suspend indoor group physical activities, such as fitness, spin, dance and yoga classes, where distancing isn’t possible. This includes no indoor sporting competitions, although these activities can be replaced with individual exercises and drills. This order does not apply to physical activities that are part of a school-based program, Henry said.
“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," she continued.
Businesses are also being urged to re-examine and update their workplace safety plans, where needed, and encourage remote working to mitigate the risk of transmission.
“All businesses and work sites must conduct active in person screening, according to our COVID safety plans, for their workers onsite now,” Henry explained. “Workplaces must ensure that all workers and customers maintain appropriate physical distancing, wear masks as appropriate, and be especially vigilant in small office paces, break rooms and kitchens. This is where we’re seeing people transmit the virus to each other in our work settings.”
Provincial officials will work with local jurisdictions and WorkSafe BC to increase workplace inspections and ensure the proper protocols are being adhered to.
“We … know in some work settings, places like restaurants, when COVID safety plans and the new restrictions—reducing hours, making sure we have physical barriers, small numbers of people—[are followed], we don’t see transmission of the virus. But we do see it when those plans slip or when they’re not being followed or adhered to religiously. Now we have to go back. And if we can’t maintain those plans, then local medical health officers will shut those businesses down, and we have seen that happen.”
The regional orders do not apply to the Central Coast, Hope and the Bella Coola Valley.
Henry stressed that, while the measures are temporary, they are absolutely necessary to help flatten the curve once again as we head into the winter.
“We will get through these challenges. We have flattened our curve in the past, and we will do it again,” she said. “It’s going to be a challenge for all of us, but we must do it together. These next two weeks will be critical for us and I’m calling on all of you to do this together, to do your part and to remember how important it is to do this by being kind to each other, by staying calm and by being safe.”