Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has announced new restrictions on private gatherings in homes after confirming a record high 817 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend and three more deaths — the largest number of new cases in B.C. in a three-day period.
The new numbers cover a three-day reporting period since Friday, with 317 cases recorded between Friday and Saturday, 293 cases between Saturday and Sunday, and 207 cases between Sunday and Monday.
The province is seeing the result of increased social gatherings over the Thanksgiving weekend and the mounting cases — particularly in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions — are “concerning,” Henry said.
“This is a bit of a sobering weekend for us,” she said.
“To get through our COVID-19 storm, it requires all of us to do our part. No exceptions, no workarounds, no trying to get around the very few but important rules that we have in place.”
The increase in new cases comes as a direct result of social gatherings happening in private homes, Henry said.
Gatherings limited to household members plus ‘safe six’
Her new provincial health order restricts gatherings in private homes to no more than immediate household members and a “safe six” additional people — a number she acknowledged may still be too many for some households, depending on space and number of people already living together.
Henry said it has become clear gatherings of fewer than 50 people are not always safe.
“We need to pay more attention to those settings where we have people coming together for celebrations,” Henry said.
“This is going to be a challenge, more for some people than others. But this is something we need to do as a community.”
The province’s restriction of no more than 50 people remains in place, but there are caveats, Henry said. It requires that a venue have sufficient space to ensure physical distancing between everyone.
Henry said enforcement will be “stepped up” to ensure public health policies are followed, with a focus on the Fraser Health Region, where an increase in new cases has been identified.
“Orders … are a last resort, but it does reflect how [seriously] we need to take this now,” Henry said.
Masks now an ‘expectation’ in all public places
Henry also said it is now an “expectation” that British Columbians wear non-medical masks in public, stopping short of making them mandatory as the province heads into cold and flu season.
Wearing a mask is an added layer of protection in areas where it’s not always possible to physically distance, like the grocery store, Henry said.
Henry said she is asking businesses to review their COVID-19 safety plans with this in mind and to ensure protocols continue to be followed in areas where people gather, like lunch rooms.
There are now 2,325 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C., with 77 people in hospital, including 26 in intensive care.
To date, 13,371 people have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 in B.C. As of Monday, 5,077 people are under active monitoring by public health workers because of potential exposure to the virus.
There are four new active outbreaks in long-term care, with 21 active ongoing outbreaks in the health care system (19 in long-term care and two in acute care facilities.)
There is one new community outbreak at the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre.
On Monday, the Fraser Health authority declared COVID-19 outbreaks at two more Lower Mainland long-term care homes, according to a statement. Staff members at both Amenida Seniors Community in Surrey, B.C., and Agassiz Seniors Community in Agassiz, B.C., have tested positive for the virus.
Province focusing on Fraser Health Region
Around 80 to 90 per cent of all B.C. cases continue to be linked to known cases or clusters, Henry said.
More than 50 per cent of identified COVID-19 cases in B.C. are in the Fraser Health Region, where the province is honing in on contact tracing and other efforts to manage a mounting case load.
The province’s strategy continues to be to identify where transmission is happening to keep other areas of the province open, Henry said.
“We’re not seeing, for example, transmission in restaurants, where people are following the safety plans. So we’re not looking at closing restaurants right now,” she said.
“What we’re looking at it adjusting and titrating to those places where we’re seeing transmission happening.”