COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry on concerns about large crowds gathering in Vancouver and Kelowna

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      As B.C. has managed to maintain relatively low numbers of new COVID-19 cases for several weeks, fear of the virus may be wearing off.

      At today’s daily B.C. COVID-19 briefing (June 22), provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix were asked what they thought of people not following health guidelines around the province.

      Daily update

      As the last daily B.C. COVID-19 update was issued on June 19, Dr. Henry provided updates for the past three days (June 20 to 22).

      From June 19 to 20, there were 10 new cases; from June 20 to 21, six new cases were confirmed; and from June 21 to 22, 16 people tested positive—a total of 32 new cases over three days.

      There are a total of 182 active cases—14 of those people have been hospitalized, and six of those patients are in intensive-care units. There aren’t any new community outbreaks.

      Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 2,822 cases in the province, with 954 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,474 in Fraser Health, 131 in Island Health, 198 in Interior Health, and 65 in Northern Health.

      Once again, there haven’t been any new health-care outbreaks, leaving seven active outbreaks (six are at long-term care facilities and one in an acute-care unit) with a total of 369 residents and 226 staff affected.

      Unfortunately, there is one new death, raising the cumulative total of fatalities to 169.

      A total of 2,471 people have now recovered.

      Too many faces, crowded spaces

      With the length of time the pandemic has been taking place and the reduced number of new cases, concerns have arisen that some people are no longer practising health precautions.

      Dr. Henry acknowledged that she had heard reports about large crowds gathering in the province, such as at a graduation event for Mount Boucherie Secondary School in Kelowna and in Vancouver’s Entertainment District downtown.

      While she said her health orders are a rule and some bylaw officers or RCMP have been involved in asking people to disperse, she reiterated that B.C.’s approach emphasized education rather than enforcement.

      “Our approach to this has always been helping explain what we need people to do and why, and relying on people to do the right thing,” she said. “So I would continue to encourage people to have these celebrations, and we’ve seen many really great ways or innovative ways that we can celebrate young people when they’re going through these transitions, and that’s what we need to focus on: how do we do it in a way that celebrates these important milestones but does it safely so that we’re not putting at risk?”

      She said that we are learning as we go and that everyone is trying to do the right thing, but she also recognizes the importance of allowing people to socialize.

      “It is concerning to me when I see things that I heard about on the weekend in the Entertainment District, when fights broke out, when things like that happened, and some of it is pent-up concern, I think, and anxiety, and it’s also one of the reasons why we need to continue to move forward and to open things up and give people avenues to congregate,” she said. “We’re social beings. We need to do that. But we need to do it in a way that best protects us and we need to recognize that is the possibility of leading to more cases and how can we best protect those who are most vulnerable to the severe effects of those new cases.”

      She said that anyone engaging in risky behaviour needs to remain away from others to prevent the spread of the virus.

      “You need to take that responsibility and monitor yourself, and get tested if you get any signs of illness,” she said.

      As she has previously explained a few times, the limit of 50 people at an event was established not only to protect people from getting the virus but also to provide a number that contact tracers could work with in quickly locating anyone exposed and stopping the risk of infection before it spreads widely.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

      Meanwhile, Dix pointed out that anyone who is engaging in such behaviour is most likely to transmit COVID-19 to the people they are closest to.

      “The people you are most likely to hurt are the people you love,” he said.

      He said that because most people throughout B.C. are following Dr. Henry’s orders, “when there are cases where people sometimes don’t follow them, they really stand out.”

      However, he said we only need to look south of the border to neighbouring Washington state to see what could happen here. (Washington state reported 190 cases and six new deaths today, and has had a cumulative total of almost 28,900 cases and almost 1,300 deaths.)

      “We really, really, really need to dig in now because we need to open things up and open up opportunities in the province that brings us all closer together,” he said.

      After reports surfaced that U.S. travellers entered Canada under the pretense that they were heading to Alaska but were later found to be vacationing in Banff, Alberta RCMP issued seven tickets to Americans under the Alberta Health Act at $1,200 each. 

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