COVID-19 in B.C.: Dr. Bonnie Henry describes how religious services and large retail stores can resume operating

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      During today's daily B.C. COVID-19 update, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided a few more details about the reopening of the province, particularly for religious services and large retail stores. 

      Daily update

      Today (May 13), Dr. Henry confirmed 16 new cases. There has been a cumulative total of 2,376 cases in the province.

      Of those, there have been 877 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,137 in Fraser Health, 125 on Vancouver Island, 180 in Interior Health, and 57 in Northern Health.

      Currently, there are 385 active cases, with 59 individuals in hospital, and 14 of those patients in intensive-care units.

      There aren’t any new community outbreaks.

      However, there are 20 active outbreaks in long-term care facilities (five of those are in acute care) with 299 residents and 190 staff who have tested positive.

      One new death has raised the cumulative total of fatalities to 132 people.

      A total of 1,859 people have recovered from the virus.

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

      Religious services and retail stores

      Both Dr. Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix reminded people once again that, with the long weekend coming up, the province is still in the first phase of the pandemic, nonessential travel is still being discouraged, and people are being asked to stay close to home.

      However, with Phase 2 of the B.C. government’s plan to reopen the province set to begin next week, after Victoria Day (May 18), Dr. Henry provided more details about some activities that will soon be permitted to resume.

      She said that what will remain in place is her order limiting gatherings to 50 people. She clarified that these events can only proceed if people can maintain safe distances and other safety precautions.

      Starting next week, she added, religious services can be held with physical distancing and with a maximum of 50 people.

      Among her advice for these services, Dr. Henry recommended holding events in the largest rooms possible with the smallest number of attendees, ensuring hand hygiene resources are available, holding shorter or multiple services, and maintaining virtual connections in addition to in-person events.

      “We have seen outbreaks starting from religious gatherings, so be mindful of the room you’re in, how long the service may be, and who are your congregates who are there, particularly if they’re elders, people who are more likely to have severe illness with this virus,” she said.

      One Canadian example that developed in the early days of the pandemic, reported in a May 10 article, occurred when a Calgary church held a celebratory event. Despite practising social distancing and hand hygiene, 24 out of the 41 people in attendance became infected with the virus and two died.

      In Washington state, a tragic example took place when the Skagit Valley Chorale held choir practice on March 10. Although there weren’t any COVID-19 cases announced in the county, none of the choristers had symptoms, members used hand sanitizer, and the choir refrained from hugging for greetings, 45 out of the 56 members became infected and two died. 

      Meanwhile, Dr. Henry said that larger shops and department stores can have over 50 people on their premises if there is enough space that “there isn’t congregating and crowding”.

      However, she encouraged stores to maintain a combination of online and in-person shopping, use physical barriers (or engineering controls) such as plexiglass barriers, ensure surfaces are cleaned, and offer opportunities to customers and staff to clean hands.

      Successful survey launch

      Both Dr. Henry and Dix said that yesterday’s launch of the provincial survey about experiences during the pandemic has already resulted in over 75,000 responses, which Dr. Henry called “outstanding”.

      “This is valuable information to help us understand where we’ve been, who’s been affected, and where we need to go,” she said.

      The survey is available from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, and she particularly encouraged young people to respond.

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