COVID-19: After risky gatherings in Vancouver and Kelowna, B.C. urges young adults to "act better"

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      At today’s B.C. COVID-19 update, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Henry referred to COVID-19 as a “stealth virus” that moves around the province “silently”, which can result in outbreaks like the ones that we’ve been witnessing in recent weeks.

      “The actions of a few, even if inadvertent, can cause tremendous impact,” she said.

      Accordingly, Dr. Henry and Dix, as well as Premier John Horgan, addressed the behaviour of young adults, while Dr. Henry gave more details about upcoming changes to health guidelines for rentals.

      Daily update: July 23

      Today, Dr. Henry confirmed 30 new cases (29 cases plus one epi-linked case), bringing the cumulative provincial total during the pandemic to 3,392.

      That includes 1,051 in Vancouver Coastal Health; 1,750 in Fraser Health; 142 in Island Health; 315 in Interior Health; 77 in Northern Health; and 57 among those who reside outside Canada.

      There are 304 active cases in all health authority regions, with 16 people in hospital. (Three of those patients are in intensive-care units.)

      Dix said that there are seven in Fraser Health, two in Interior Health, six in Vancouver Coastal Health, and one outside Canada.

      A total of 2,898 people in the province have now fully recovered from the coronavirus.

      Unfortunately, there has been one new death, raising the total number of fatalities to 190 during the pandemic.

      There are no new health-care outbreaks, leaving one active outbreak in a long-term care facility and two in acute-care units.

      Community exposure events in recent weeks, particularly in Interior Health and the South Okanagan region, are being monitored, as they have “led to a surge in cases in those areas,” Dr. Henry said, “some of whom are people who have returned to other parts of British Columbia.”

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      Rental restrictions

      Yesterday, Dr. Henry introduced new amendments to nightlife health guidelines, following several public coronavirus exposure events at venues in Vancouver.

      As Dr. Henry also mentioned yesterday, she will be introducing an order requiring those who rent properties, including boats, rooms, Airbnb, houseboats, and houses, to limit guests and visitors to premises as part of rental agreements.

      The maximum number of people, she said, will be based on the size of the properties and is still being determined.

      These amendments will apply across province. Dr. Henry explained that after discussions with all health authorities, these issues occur in and involve people from across the province, not just in one region, which is why restrictions won’t be based on geography.

      She also said the onus will fall on the owners or operators to ensure that the restrictions are followed.

      Full details are to come soon.

      Young-adult behaviour

      When asked about the large drumming gathering at Third Beach in Vancouver on July 21, Dr. Henry said that such behaviour may reflect the fact that young adults “have been differentially affected by things like job losses and school closures, and there was perhaps a sense that they were being negatively impacted [by socioeconomic changes] and not being impacted by COVID so much, so they could get out and do this”.

      However, the surge of cases among 20 to 40 year olds in various parts of Canada and the U.S. have been an ongoing concern over recent weeks. 

      As both Dr. Henry and Dix have previously stated, these examples tend to get a lot of attention, and both believe the majority of people are doing the right thing.

      “But people even within that scenario were doing their best to keep their distance,” Dr. Henry said. “They weren’t engaging necessarily and most people that I saw in videos weren’t speaking very closely to each other. There was not a lot of sort of gathering in those situations which are riskier.”

      However, she pointed out that they don’t condone this type of gathering. With over 1,000 people affected, she said that this is “a wakeup call” that health precautions must continue to be practised.

      At a news conference from Victoria, Premier John Horgan said that there are many places along B.C.’s coastline for drummers to gather, but he emphasized that they must do it responsibly.

      He said that while some places have imposed fines, B.C.’s approach has been to appeal to people to do the right thing.

      “We do have tools at our disposal,” he said. “We’re reluctant to use them as other jurisdictions have tried and failed, quite frankly, and we would prefer British Columbians to tune into these updates.”

      He explained that he doesn’t believe “prescribing behaviour and penalizing people for bad behaviour is where we’re at right now”.

      Also, he pointed out that word about the impact of events like the Kelowna outbreak, which involved many young adults, will spread quickly. And so he believes peer pressure, including from family members, is a better means of getting people in line. 

      “Young people are certainly cognizant of what their peers are doing,” he said. “They’re going to be using social media to say, ‘This is what happened to me—use your common sense.’”

      He believes that these examples are “an opportunity for people to give themselves a bit of a shake and act better”.

      To provide broader context for why everyone needs to continue to be vigilant, Horgan pointed out that the average daily number of new cases in B.C. has been 30 for the past week, while Alberta is averaging 116 new cases per day and Washington state is averaging 829.

      “Those are trends that are not good for our neighbours, and they’re not good for British Columbians,” he said. “We need to look around us so we can modify our behaviour to protect our loved ones to make sure that we can continue to reopen the economy safely as we go from Phase 3 into Phase 4 in the weeks or, potentially, months ahead.”

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      Making masks mandatory

      As several jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S. are making masks mandatory, Dr. Henry and Dix, who have responded to questions about this issue before, once again reiterated that they don’t foresee doing so at the moment.

      “It is the view of public health, based on the evidence, that a mandate is not desirable at this time,” Dix said. “That’s a decision that should be properly in the hands of public health.”

      Dix emphasized that mask-wearing is one layer of protection, but it does not replace other means to stop transmission such as physical distancing, plexiglass shields, and limited numbers of people.

      Nonetheless, Dr. Henry said that while she is not currently considering making masks mandatory, that could change depending on the situation.

      “If and when we get to a point where we have a lot of community transmission, where we see a lot of these transmission events happen in places like transit…or retail stores, then this is an option we can move to,” she said.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.