People watch a youth soccer match, in Burnaby, B.C., on Saturday, November 7, 2020. B.C. public health orders banning social gatherings are in effect Nov. 7-23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. fields tough COVID-19 questions on urban restrictions

Ban on private social gatherings as business, school carry on

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is walking a fine line to keep schools and businesses functioning as the province prepares for more big COVID-19 infection numbers from the weekend.

B.C. hit a daily high on Friday, Nov. 13 with 617 new coronavirus cases reported, as the second week of restrictions on the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions began. Orders in effect from Nov. 7 to 23 put a stop to travel for sports and leisure to and from the Lower Mainland, and indoor group fitness and social gatherings at private homes within the two health regions that have seen most of the increased virus spread.

Guidance posted over the weekend clarifies that people living alone can “continue to see one or two members of their pandemic bubble at each other’s homes,” where the pandemic bubble is your household.

Much of the guidance defines what is or isn’t a social gathering. There is no order restricting travel in or out of the Lower Mainland, and work, medical appointments and other essential business carries on during the two weeks of the order. COVID-19 test results will determine if the restrictions are extended past Nov. 23.

Religious services continue with safety plans for a limit of 50 people, and work or family-related travel and car-pooling to school or work is allowed. The guidance answers common questions, such as why Henry has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces.

“Dr. Henry expects everyone who can to use masks, the same way she expects everyone to maintain a safe distance from others, clean their hands and cough into their sleeves,” the guidance documents say.

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And then there are schools, with classrooms arranged in cohorts to minimize their number of contacts. School transmission is being monitored and the risk has been considered low compared to higher-risk activities.

Q: “Why is it safe for a teacher to be in a classroom of 26 students, but not see a few close friends?”

A: “This order is based on evidence that social gatherings, particularly in household settings but also in other social situations such as gatherings before or after sports events or indoor group physical activities are causing significant COVID-19 transmission.

“People who violate this order bring exposure risks into their home, risks that they latter take with them to their workplaces. We all need to reduce our social interactions so we can keep our schools and workplaces open.”

Restaurants, pubs and movie theatres continue to operate as before. Like classrooms, these are considered controlled settings, where seating is spaced and moving from one seat group to another is not permitted, unlike wedding and funeral receptions where large groups have not been effectively regulated.


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