Mandatory masks in indoor public spaces among new B.C. COVID-19 restrictions

Mandatory masks and a ban on gatherings. Those are just some of the new safety measures B.C. health officials are putting in place province-wide. Travis Prasad has more on how the new restrictions may impact your daily routine.

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — Masks will be required in retail and indoor public places, except for schools, as part of the new COVID-19 directives announced Thursday.

The provincial health officer said it’s important for employees to feel protected at work, which is why Dr. Bonnie Henry has asked Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth to issue an order. The “layers of protection” in schools, however, mean such a mandate is not necessary there, Henry added.

Masks should also be worn in workplaces when in shared areas and in places where physical distancing isn’t possible, such as elevators.

She clarified that if someone is eating or drinking, they don’t need to wear a mask. Further details on mask requirements and enforcement will be released in the coming week.

The new restrictions are aimed at urgently reducing the level of transmission by limiting social interactions, and they apply to the entire province as high case counts continue in the second wave of the pandemic.

“We knew that every pandemic that we’ve ever had, has had more than one wave,” said Henry. “And this has been proving to us, and to people around the globe, that this is a challenging virus to deal with in spite of where we may be today.”

This comes as the province announced 538 new infections and one death in the last 24 hours. Six new health-care outbreaks were also reported. An LNG project site in Kitimat is also dealing with an outbreak involving at least 14 employees.

Cutting down social interactions 

Restrictions in place for the Fraser Health and Vancouver Health regions have been extended two more weeks and expanded to include the rest of the province.

British Columbians are to only socialize with their “immediate household,” with some exceptions. The definition of an immediate household can encompass people who do not live together, according to the province.

“We need to delay inviting over friends and family for this period of time, and reduce our social interactions, as much as possible, outside of our homes,” Henry said, adding if someone lives alone, they can still see one or two people they’re close to.

RELATED: B.C.’s new COVID-19 restrictions on ‘social gatherings’: What do they mean? 

All in-person religious services are banned for two weeks, and gatherings under 50 people that were previously allowed aren’t anymore. There is an exception for funerals, weddings, and baptisms with fewer than 10 people.

“We need our faith services more than ever, right now, but we need to do them in a way that’s safe and with the community transmission,” Henry added.

Support groups like AA can still happen under certain circumstances and with COVID-19 safety plans.

What about businesses? 

Henry said when rules are being followed and safety measures are in place, transmission has not been happening. She is instructing employers to keep people working from home as much as possible until the new year.

Restaurants and bars are still allowed to stay open under the new restrictions.

Inspections will be stepped up, especially in bars. Henry is clear that any businesses or workplaces found not complying with COVID-19 protocols will be shut down.

Any facilities that organize or operate indoor group physical activities including spin classes, hot yoga, and high-intensity interval training have to stop until further notice. Studios that were allowed to reopen after submitting safety plans are being ordered to close once again. Other types of fitness activities and sports can still happen if provincial guidance is followed. No spectators are allowed.

Henry explained these closed environments with people close together with poor ventilation has proven to be too risky and “invite the virus to spread.”

Stay local as much as possible

It is not an order, but Henry echoed her early calls and that of the premier the day before: only travel if it is necessary.

“It is our expectation that everybody in B.C. right now will limit their travel as much as possible unless it is essential. So it is limiting our recreational and travel for social reasons that we’re talking about. This includes travel within the province and travel to other parts of Canada,” Henry said.

She explained she isn’t issuing a public health order restricting travel because she trusts people will follow the guidance.

Sports teams are not permitted to travel outside their local communities.

A plea with a sense of hope 

To the younger generations, Henry empathizes with the impact the pandemic has had on important life events, but said there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I also know that you have been role models and inspirations,” she said. “Young people have proven that they have resilience, that you’re adaptable, and that you’re brave. I’m calling on all of you right now. I need you to be superheroes to step up to hold the line, and to help all of us get through this.”

While she noted dark winter nights are ahead, she also noted the promising developments for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“I am hopeful that early in the new year, we’ll start to have some of those tools to help us protect those who are most at risk. Right now, we all need to focus our efforts on slowing the spread and bending, our curve back down.”

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