Keep gatherings small, consistent, B.C.’s top doctor advises ahead of long weekend

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — Religious services can be held with safe, physical distancing starting next week as the province moves forward with its restart plan, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday.

She clarified that her order banning gatherings of more than 50 people remains in place, although indoor events may need to be smaller.

And she asked teens and others to keep their social groups small and consistent, while announcing another COVID-19 death and 16 new cases.

“So if you’re a teenager, I know spending time with your friends for many of you is incredibly important,” Henry said. “If you’re thinking about adding others to your bubble, to your small group that you have gone through the first part of this pandemic with, then keep your group small. So find those people who are really is important for you to spend that time with and keep them small and consistent.”

She also said, after the Victoria Day long weekend, religious services can be held with safe, physical distancing.

“So that is a maximum of 50 people still, and that is provided that many people can fit into your facility that may be way too many for many places of worship. We have seen outbreaks starting from religious gatherings,” Henry added.

“So be mindful of the room you’re in, how long the service may be and who are your congregants who are there, particularly if they’re elders.”

She reported no new virus outbreaks Wednesday, although 20 remain active at care homes and acute care units.

B.C. has so far recorded 132 deaths related to COVID-19 and 2,376 cases total, while 1,859 people have recovered, a rate of 78 per cent.

Another 59 people remain in hospital with the virus, including 14 in intensive care; both totals represent a slight decrease from the previous day.

The provincial government launched a survey Tuesday to gather feedback on experiences and actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Henry said more than 75,000 took it in the first 24 hours.

“This is valuable information to help us understand where we’ve been, who’s been affected, and where we need to go,” she said.

As part of the survey, people can express interest in participating in studies, including one on serology blood testing to determine immunity.

Henry also addressed retail stores, some of which can reopen next week as part of the second phase of the restart plan. She said ample spacing, small numbers, and physical barriers are effective in retail settings.

“We’ve seen that in grocery stores and pharmacies and other places that have stayed open. Having that Plexiglas barrier protects me from you, and you from me, those are incredibly effective,” she added.

“Cleaning of surfaces and opportunities for cleaning of hands, also incredibly important in retail stores.”

She advised people needing to see a dentist or physiotherapist to call first, and be prepared to be asked to wear a non-medical mask.

“It will be different from what we have had before. And that we will mean not be having people sitting in a waiting room area together.”

Henry said the province is working with regulatory authorities and colleges for all regulated health professions on incremental changes and the guidance needed to move forward over the next couple of weeks.

She also said to those considering hosting BBQs as the weather warms, to do safely — stay outdoors, be mindful of spacing, and, again, keep groups small and consistent.

“So make a pact with some friends or neighbours that you’re going to be within each other’s close contacts over the next coming weeks. The fewer people that you see, the less chance that you’re going to bring this virus into your household, or spread it in your community,” Henry said.

“And right now, no hugs and kisses with people who are outside your household or your circle.”

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