B.C. health officials on Saturday announced newly-tightened restrictions for Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Fraser Health regions, effective for the next two weeks, citing a "dangerously high and rapid increase of COVID-19 cases" among those health authorities in the last 14 days.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reported 567 new cases of COVID-19 in the previous 24-hour-period, bringing the province's total number of cases since the coronavirus pandemic began to 17,716.
Joined by health minister Adrian Dix, it was the first weekend briefing Henry has held in months, since B.C. kicked off the second phase of its reopening plan in May.
The new cases announced Saturday include 122 in the VCH region, 411 in Fraser Health, three in the Island Health region, 22 in the Interior Health region, and 9 in Northern Health.
New restrictions limit travel, social gatherings, and indoor physical activities
The new provincial health orders will restrict social gatherings of any size with anyone outside of your immediate household, as well as indoor group physical activities, including yoga, spin, group fitness and dance classes.
Basically, indoor locations "where people are increasing their heart rate," Henry 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."
That ban also applies to indoor competitions and games where physical distancing cannot be maintained, including sports such as minor hockey. However, Henry said, "these activities can be replaced with the individual exercise of practice and drills," as B.C. similarly permitted prior to the province's restart of its sports programs, so long as it "allows everyone to maintain safe physical distancing."
This order does not apply to school-based physical activity programs, Henry noted.
Public health officials are also recommending "in the very strongest terms" that British Columbians avoid travel into and out of the two health regions. "We need to go back to what we were doing in March and April and May, where it was essential travel only," Henry said.
That includes a ban on travelling into or outside of the two health regions for sports, for the time being.
Funerals and weddings are still permitted to take place within immediate households, said Henry, "but there are to be no associated receptions inside or outside your home or at any public or community-based venues."
Party buses and limousines are also ordered to cease operations for the two-week period.
In addition, "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. "They must go back to those plans and reinforce the importance that they have. 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."
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."
Restaurants are permitted to remain open for the time being, on the condition that each establishment adheres to COVID-19 safety plans. If that isn't possible, Henry suggested that they revert to take-out only service.
The restrictions will go into effect Saturday, Nov. 7 at 10 p.m., and are set to expire on Monday, Nov. 23 at 12 a.m. The orders apply only to the VCH and Fraser Health regions, with the exception of the Central Coast in Bella Coola Valley.
Surge in COVID-19 cases breaks B.C. records
The new measures come one day after B.C. announced 589 new cases of the virus, smashing its previous single-day record of 425. Saturday marked only the second time the province's daily new case-count surpassed 500.
Of the province's active COVID-19 cases, 100 individuals are currently hospitalized, with 31 of those patients receiving treatment in critical or intensive care units.
There has been one new health care facility outbreak, at The Residence in Mission. This comes following the six new health-care facility outbreaks that were announced Friday.
In total, B.C. is currently dealing with 37 active outbreaks of the virus, including 33 in long-term care or assisted-living facilities and four acute-care facilities.
- With files from Glen Korstrom