As B.C. continued on into its third phase of its reopening plan, numerous COVID-19 exposure incidents began taking place at nightlife venues, eateries, and private parties.
While B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth had taken action regarding private parties by enabling officers to ticket health order violators as of August 21, nightlife venues remained an ongoing issue. (Despite Farnworth's measures, private parties remain an ongoing issue, as a recent party in West Vancouver with over 200 guests proved.)
At today’s daily COVID-19 update (September 8), B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced new measures that will address those situations.
“In many cases what we are seeing are large numbers of people being exposed inadvertently in those environments, particularly in some of the nightclubs and the bars and some of the parties that we’ve seen in many cases fuelled by a use of alcohol,” she said. She said that these venues have been a “major source of transmission” and risk since Phase 3 began.
She explained that over recent weeks, public health teams have been “heavily focussed” on community clusters, mostly involving young adults, related to these types of community incidents are located, detected, and isolated. But she said that this has been “a very challenging thing to do” because people at these locations are often not connected to each other, and that “we are starting to see some spillover into other parts of our community”.
She also added that a lot of public health resources have been taken up with contact tracing for these incidents.
She said that most restaurants “in particular” have been doing a “very good job at keeping things under control”.
“These restrictions are meant to take away that late-night temptation that people have where we know that mixing has been going on and where transmission is happening in these venues across the province,” she said.
Henry explained that they have a team of people looking at the impacts of measures they have taken, both positive and negative, and that there have been many negative impacts of measures they have previously taken.
“We want to do the least amount we can by order and make sure that we can support people to do the right things that they need to do for their own individual situation,” she said.
Changes to nightclubs, banquet halls, bars, and restaurants
Henry announced that new amendments to her public health orders for bars, nightclubs, and banquet halls are effective today.
As she has previously said that their approach has been an educational one, she reiterated today that issuing orders is always their last resort.
However, she said they are imposing new restrictions because both staff and customers are being put at risk.
She announced that all nightclubs and all stand-alone banquet halls are ordered closed until further notice.
The B.C. Banquet Hall Association had previously issued a news release on August 20, stating that facilities were losing thousands of dollars each week in revenue while facing pressure from customers to bend the rules for them. As banquet halls breaking provincial health orders could face fines of up to $25,000 and a jail term, the association said that banquet halls were asking for the province to shut them down.
Also, Henry said that all liquor sales in all bars, pubs, and restaurants must cease at 10 p.m. and the venues must close at 11 p.m. However, she added that the venues can remain open if they are providing a full-meal service though they cannot serve alcohol after this time.
In order to help people avoid having to speak loudly, shout, or be in close contact with others to have a conversation, she said all music or background sounds (such as TVs) cannot be louder than the volume of normal conversation.
She acknowledged that this will be a difficult time for these businesses but that we do need to focus on what we can do to stop transmission.
She what has been challenging is that liquor licenses are a “spectrum” and that some places “can get around some of the issues by serving more food”.
Although she said they were trying to “wrestle”with those issues and approach in a nuanced way, she said “it became really apparent that there were some venues that were just high-risk environments for staff, for patrons, and that we weren’t able…to effectively use the measures that we had put in place”.
She also noted that as the seasonal weather changes, some of the pandemic adaptations, such as restaurants providing patio dining to accommodate more people in a safe way, won’t be possible in autumn and winter.
Dix said that tomorrow (September 9), he, Henry, and Premier John Horgan will be presenting plans for the fall, based on lessons that they learnt in March, April, and May.
Nightlife and restaurant exposures
Over the long weekend, Vancouver Coastal Health announced three COVID-19 exposure events that all took place at nightclubs in the Granville Entertainment district.
One was at the Compound/Heaven (1026 Granville Street) from 9:45 p.m. to 1 a.m. on the evening of August 29.
The second was at Studio Lounge and Nightclub (919 Granville Street) during operating hours on August 28.
A third was at Cabana Lounge (1159 Granville Street) during operating hours on August 28.
News 1130 reported that Vancouver Coastal Health shut down Babylon Restaurant and Bar (1162 Denman Street) in the West End near English Bay on September 4 for repeated health and safety violations, including a lack of physical distancing.
Babylon Café has two other locations: at 770 Nelson Street and 1605 Commercial Drive.
Other restaurants have recently confirmed cases on their premises.
In East Vancouver, Havana Vancouver (1212 Commercial Drive) announced on September 1 that it decided to voluntarily close as a precaution after a staff member tested positive. After staff were tested and all surfaces disinfected twice, the restaurant reopened on September 3.
Chambar (568 Beatty Street) announced on September 4 that the restaurant had an employee test positive and voluntarily closed for disinfection as a precaution. It reopened on September 8.
For today’s daily B.C. COVID-19 update (for September 4 to 8), including four new heatlhcare outbreaks and 14 flights confirmed with COVID-19, see this article.