COVID-19 in B.C.: Crowds at beaches, mask-wearing advice, and Vancouver protest against restrictions

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      While B.C. provincial officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has repeatedly asked people to be calm, kind, and safe, she said at today’s daily B.C. COVID-19 update that her word of the day is patience.

      She asked people to be patient with restrictions, as we still remain in phase one, and also with others.

      “Next week, if things continue the way that they have been going—and I fully expect that they will—we’ll be at the beginning of our phase two of our pandemic,” she said. “But being patient and calm must be top of mind right now.”

      She emphasized that everyone must do what’s right for them, and cautioned against moving too fast.

      “A steady stream will be far more successful than a rushing river that can damage things in its path,” she said.

      Meanwhile, Dr. Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix answered questions about large numbers of people on beaches and in parks on the weekend, as well as about the change in advice about wearing masks. 

      Daily update

      Since the last update on May 9, Dr. Henry said there were nine new cases from May 9 to 10 and 14 new cases from May 10 to 11, for a total of 23 new cases over the past 48 hours.

      As of today (May 11), B.C. has now had a cumulative total of 2,353 cases, with 873 in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,118 in Fraser Health, 125 in Island Health, 180 in Interior Health, and 57 in Northern Health.

      Dr. Henry said that there are 19 active outbreaks with eight new affected individuals in longterm care facilities for a total of 291 residents and 184 staff who are confirmed cases.

      There are now 19 outbreaks at longterm care facilities that have resolved.

      In addition, the outbreak among foreign workers at West Kelowna’s Byland Nurseries is now over.

      Dr. Henry stated that there are currently 634 active cases with 66 individuals in hospital, and 18 of those patients in intensive care units.

      One new death has brought the provincial fatality total to 130 individuals who have died.

      A total of 1,719 people have recovered from the virus.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix (with Dr. Bonnie Henry)
      Province of British Columbia

      Crowds out and about

      Several news reports and social media images emerged about crowds flocking to beaches and parks over the weekend while ignoring physical distancing.

      The Vancouver Park Board stated that almost 1,900 warnings were issued by park rangers this past weekend. Consequently, the park board stated today that it will delay the reopening of parking lots at beaches and parks, which were closed on March 22 and 23.

      Park rangers have issued approximately 11,100 warnings in total.

      When asked about this issue, particularly with another long weekend approaching, Dr. Henry said that the number of warning reflects that their system is working as it indicates that the system is being monitored.

      She said that bylaw officers can provide advice and warnings and that police officers are also thanking people for doing the right thing for positive enforcement.

      “We are not taking a punitive approach in this province and that’s worked for us, and it will continue to work for us,” she said. “I think most people recognize that if they’re doing things that are going to increase the risk of spreading this virus, then it is their loved ones, their families, their communities, the people they live with who they’re going to take it home to.”

      Dr. Henry said she was also outdoors on the weekend and did see a lot of people out but most were doing the right thing.

      “The vast majority of the people were in small groups, they were sitting apart from each other, they were socializing, they were out in the sun,” she said. “It was such a spectacular weekend. There was a lot of pressure to just be done with it, but people were reasonable and they were responding and I think we can sometimes get caught up with the small minority of people who are maybe having too much fun and who are disturbing those of us who are trying to keep a little bit separate.”

      Meanwhile, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix added that in he was out in the Joyce-Collingwood neighbourhood of Vancouver and noticed a “significant effort by everybody to follow the rules”.

      On May 10, activists marched along Denman Street in Vancouver's West End to protest COVID-19 restrictions.
      Craig Takeuchi

      Despite the fact that B.C. never went into a complete lockdown (many businesses voluntarily closed for health precautions even though they were never officially ordered to do so, and many industries remained open that were closed in other provinces) and that the province announced its plans for reopening on May 6, a group of activists held another march to protest restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

      The group, chanting “What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!” and “We are not scared”, marched through the West End on May 10 and yelled at healthcare workers at St. Paul’s Hospital.

      A previous march had been held on April 26.

      Wearing masks

      When asked about how her advice on wearing masks has changed over the course of the pandemic, she explained that was because their understanding of the virus had also changed.

      Dr. Henry had previously stated that wearing a mask was not effective and that it sometimes encouraged people to touch their face more frequently.

      “There’s evidence that shows that if you wear a mask, it can be irritating and it means that people sometimes will be more likely to touch their face and nose,” she said.

      She said that what has changed is their understanding of when people shed the virus and can be infectious.

      What they have learned is that people without symptoms (or may not recognize their symptoms) can be infectious and have “high viral loads”, she explained.

      In comparison, she said that what they found with the 2003 SARS outbreak was that their viral loads increased over a few days as symptoms appeared, with a peak by about day five.

      “It has led us to think that it is important at those times when we cannot maintain those physical distances consistently…that short-term wearing of a mask can prevent transmission in those situations,” she said.

      She emphasized that wearing a mask isn’t about protecting the user but about keeping the user’s droplets contained.

      “We still need to be careful because it doesn’t mean you can get closer to people because we know that distance is really important,” she pointed out.

      Despite wearing masks, she said everyone still needs to continue washing hands, covering mouths, and avoid face-touching.

      She pointed out that a person can self-inoculate by touching the mask and then rubbing their eyes. She also added that masks aren’t meant to be worn for long periods and that people shouldn’t wear them for the entire day.

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