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BC’s COVID-19 Cases Hit Record Level

Despite a school outbreak, the return to classes has been successful, says Bonnie Henry.

Moira Wyton 23 Oct 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Moira Wyton is The Tyee’s health reporter. Follow her @moirawyton or reach her here. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

After back-to-back record COVID-19 cases, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is considering tighter restrictions on social gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.

Henry reported 274 new cases Thursday, breaking the record of 203 set a day earlier.

Just two weeks ago Henry said B.C. was beginning to re-flatten its curve, but that’s no longer the case.

“Much of the recent surge is directly linked to social events,” said Henry. Events like weddings and funerals are resulting in “new cases spilling over to other locations and parts of our communities.”

There are currently 19 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living facilities, all in Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions. 

In-person gatherings like weddings and memorials are currently limited to 50 people under a public health order from Henry. Hosts and vendors must follow a number of precautions.

But Henry said these protocols are clearly not being adhered to as a significant number of new cases and community transmission events are linked to weddings, mostly in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley areas.

Public health officials are also aware of some multi-day or multi-event weddings where different groups of 50 participated each day or in different segments, which they say increases the risk for everyone.

Henry did not say what further actions she was considering. But she said that attaching conditions to marriage licences, decreasing the gathering limit or penalizing vendors who don’t adhere to the order are on the table. 

“People are not sticking with their COVID-19 safety plans for gatherings,” said Henry. “We all, as social creatures, need to come together. And it is very hard to keep to those important limits that help prevent the spread of the virus.”

Alcohol, feelings of obligation to attend events or last-minute guest additions all make it more difficult to maintain proper distancing protocols, Henry added.

She urged those hosting such events to have small civil services and to save larger celebrations for next year.

“Weddings, funerals and other life occasions need to be small. Every gathering needs to be only our household and at maximum, our safe six,” said Henry, reiterating ongoing advice to limit close contacts outside your household to a maximum of the same six people.

“Now is the time where we need to control and manage our social gatherings to keep this virus in check and to prevent it from spreading to those in our family and community who may be most affected by it.”

Transmission from these events has rippled into schools and workplace clusters too, leading to new cases, Henry noted.

582px version of CovidSchool.jpg
École de l’Anse-au-sable in Kelowna has BC’s first COVID-19 school outbreak. Image via Google Maps.

B.C.’s first school outbreak currently has 160 students at École de l'Anse-au-sable in Kelowna self-isolating after exposure events on three days last week.

But Henry says back to school has largely been a success. Across more than 2,000 schools in B.C., there have been 216 exposure events, where a student or staff was in contact with someone with the virus. Just six of those have been cluster events.

The fact that this is the province’s only school outbreak is heartening, Henry said, and children continue to test positive for COVID-19 at half the rate of their share of the population.

“We are not seeing return-to-school cause transmission in our communities,” said Henry.  [Tyee]

Read more: Coronavirus

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