British Columbians are being ordered to limit the number of people they invite to house parties and advised to wear masks in all public indoor spaces after a record-breaking number of new cases of COVID-19 arising from the Thanksgiving weekend.
Large gatherings in homes are just too dangerous now, said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, adding that the new order will affect all upcoming celebrations, including Halloween, Diwali, Hanukkah and Christmas.
On Monday, the province said 817 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 were recorded over the past three days.
There are now 2,325 known active cases in the province including 77 people who are in hospital, and another 5,077 who are being monitored. The majority of new cases are in the Fraser Health Region.
“This is a bit of a sobering weekend for us,” said Henry. “This is the largest number of cases that we’ve had in a three-day period and it is concerning to us that we continue to see growth, particularly in the Lower Mainland and in the Fraser Health region, to be specific.”
There were no new cases reported in Island Health over the weekend. The region has nine active cases, and has had a total of 250 since the pandemic began.
The new cases since last week are clearly associated with the Thanksgiving weekend, Henry said. “They may have been family gatherings, they may have been celebrations of life, or a number of weddings that took place over several days around that weekend.
“And what we are seeing now is the next level of transmission, so, that’s why we have to stop this now,” said Henry. “And it’s not lost on us that there are many more celebrations coming up, not the least of which is Halloween this weekend.”
A new provincial health order will limit gatherings in private homes to immediate household members and an additional maximum “safe six” people in the household bubble — if there is enough space for people to distance and conduct themselves safely, Henry said. “And for some large families, even that may be too many.”
“We’re tackling where we’re seeing transmission events taking place,” she said. “And we’re trying to find that balance so that we can keep as much open as possible.”
Henry is asking everyone to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. “It is now the expectation that people will wear a non-medical mask in public spaces.” With this in mind, Henry is asking businesses to review their COVID-19 safety plans.
Henry said the province is heading into a “very challenging and difficult few months.”
“We know that because we’ve watched what’s happened around the world. We are doing OK here because of the role that everybody has played. I know it’s challenging to hear this, but we need to buckle down, and we need to have respect for each other and continue to do our part, and get through this next few months.”
There’s already a provincial order limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people.
Henry said people are increasingly demonstrating a sense that rules don’t apply to them, and cases are rising. She cited the example of weddings and funerals where the ceremony is conducted safely but then the group goes back to a single home and transmission occurs, or people agree to a safety plan only to have more guests show up.
“So what we’re trying to address is the set of rules now for all of us around holding events in our house where we don’t have that space to keep people safely separated and where we’re seeing transmission,” Henry said. Celebrations are important “but we’re in a pandemic,” she said. She advocated “small outdoor celebrations and memorials.”
Since the pandemic began, there’s been a total of 13,371 cases of COVID-19 in B.C.: 4,428 in Vancouver Coastal; 7,529 in Fraser Health; 250 in Island Health; 639 in Interior Health; 383 in Northern Health.
The province announced four new health care outbreaks, all in long term care homes: Queen’s Park Care Centre, Almenida Seniors Community, and Agassiz Seniors Community in Fraser Health, and the Banfield Pavilion in Vancouver Coastal. There are no outbreaks in long-term care homes on Vancouver Island.
In addition, there’s been one new community outbreak at the Surrey Pre-Trial Services Centre.
Henry said she hopes there will be a vaccine “early next year.”
“But it’s not going to be for everybody all at once so we need to do our bit now to focus on our priority which is keeping our businesses open as much as possible, keeping our schools open and keeping our community safe.”
Several hundred more contact tracers have been hired around the province as keeping up with the new cases has been a challenge, said Henry.