COVID-19 in B.C.: Outbreak in Central Okanagan prompts measures for travel, businesses, and more

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      With Interior Health recording the highest numbers of new and active cases in the province in recent weeks, B.C. health officials are now declaring an outbreak in the Central Okanagan region.

      Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C Health Minister Adrian Dix from Vancouver and Interior Health chief medical health officer Sue Pollock held a teleconference today (July 28) to address the outbreak.

      Dix explained that in recent days, there have been “significant increases” in positive cases in the Central Okanagan, which includes Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country, and the Westbank First Nations. He added that test positivity in Interior Health has been at 6.8 percent, compared to one percent in Fraser Health and Island Health, and 0.9 percent in Vancouver Coastal Health.

      Henry said public health is concerned “quite rapid increase” in cases in the Kelowna area, and involves the Delta variant. She said there were 95 cases yesterday and 113 cases today, for about 240 cases in last week in Central Okanagan.

      Accordingly, Pollock said that Interior Health is declaring outbreak today for Central Okanagan local area due to “exponential growth” in cases.

      She said that cases are occurring mostly among those 20 to 40 years old and that the “vast majority” are among those only partially or not immunized.

      Thus far, she said that they are not seeing cases among their most vulnerable populations nor among young children. However, she said their must protect their most vulnerable individuals and are keeping the impact upon the broader province in mind.

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

      Pollock announced several preventative measures that are being implemented, effective tonight at midnight:

      Masks: masks will be mandatory for all public indoor spaces in the Central Okanagan. Masks are encouraged for outdoor spaces where physical distancing isn’t possible and for people who aren’t immunized. (Masks are optional for children under 12 years of age.)

      In addition, she pointed out that masks are also important due to poor air quality related to the B.C. wildfires in the region.

      Businesses: Several service industry businesses have had to close voluntarily due to staff cases, Pollock said. Accordingly, she said enforcement will increase with outbreak control measures.

      Public health will follow up on any businesses with three or more cases linked to their establishment, and will order them to close if necessary.

      Travel: Interior Health is discouraging non-essential travel to the region, unless fully immunized.

      For any travelers to the area, Pollock emphasized the importance of checking for the latest information before arrival—she pointed out that in addition to COVID-19 cases, there are also health issues related to poor air quality and the heat-wave warning that has been issued for the area (as well as the rest of the province).

      Food, fitness, and nightlife: Casinos, nightclubs, restaurants, and bars can continue to operate under current health guidelines, she said.

      Although some cases had been linked to gyms and sports facilities, they can continue to operate, with safety plans in place.

      Immunizations: Pollock said that Interior Health currently has 74 percent of its eligible population vaccination. In order to reach 80 percent, Interior Health is reducing the interval between doses to 28 days or greater for Central Okanagan residents.

      Yesterday, B.C. health officials provided an update on immunizations in the province and announced a new vaccination campaign that is focussed on reaching those who remain unvaccinated.

      The daily B.C. COVID-19 update is forthcoming.

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