COVID-19 in B.C.: Social contract for reopening businesses, individual plans for expanding social bubbles

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      While the provincial government provided an outline of its reopening plan for British Columbia yesterday, at today’s daily B.C. COVID-19 update, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry spent time reminding citizens not to start expanding socially quite yet and provided a few more details about what reopening will entail for businesses.

      Daily update

      Dr. Henry stated today (May 7) that there are 33 new confirmed cases, for a cumulative total of 2,288 cases in the province.

      To date, there have been 865 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,064 in Fraser Health, 126 in Island Health, 179 in Interior Health, and 54 in Northern Health.

      There aren't any new community outbreaks.

      Among long-term care facilities, there remain 21 active outbreaks but there are 11 new cases, for a total of 280 residents and 180 staff who have been affected.

      At outbreaks at food-processing facilities, case numbers haven’t changed. There remain seven cases at Fraser Poultry in Chilliwack, 35 at United Poultry in Vancouver, and 56 at Superior Poultry in Coquitlam.

      There also remain 134 cases at the Mission Institution correctional facility and 16 cases from the Kearl Lake oil sands project in Alberta (both are the same as yesterday).

      Currently, there are 76 patients in hospital (an increase of two people from yesterday), with 20 of those individuals in intensive care units.

      Two new fatalities (one in Fraser Health and another in Vancouver Coastal Health) have raised the provincial total to 126 deaths.

      With 18 more recoveries, the province has reached a total of 1,512 people who have recovered.

      Still in Phase 1

      Despite the plans announced yesterday, Dr. Henry emphasized that the province still remains in the first phase of the pandemic.

      Reiterating what Horgan said on May 6, Dr. Henry said the province will be able to ”very slowly and cautiously start” Phase 2 after the Victoria Day (May 18) long weekend.

      “We need to have a slow and thoughtful reset,” she said. “We do not want to undo all that we have done.”

      She said that we all need to continue taking measures “to bend our curve down and to get this under control”, and that if the province moves too fast it may face setbacks.

      She also reminded British Columbians that despite overall declines in case numbers, there are still many new current cases in various communities.

      “We have thousands of people who are coming back, Canadians who are returning from countries that are still in the throes of a very serious upswing in cases,” she said. “While we have decreasing numbers, thankfully, in hospital and ICU, there are still people out there who are being in isolation because they’ve been in contact, and we know there’s nothing we can do to prevent them from getting ill—we just need to monitor them and make sure that the next chain of transmission isn’t happening.”

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

      Social contract for businesses reopening

      Dr. Henry said that not every business or workplace may reopen, depending on various factors to be taken into consideration, including staff, clientele, and physical setup.

      She said that specific requirements for various sectors will be outlined and that template plans and checklists are being developed that will be available to businesses.

      When businesses do reopen, she said, there will be a “social contract” that will require employers to demonstrate to employees and customers how they are meeting health requirements.

      Individual plans, she said, do not need to be submitted for approval, but they do need to be posted in a place where the public can read them, such as online or in windows.

      “This is how we have accountability to each other and how we can ensure that everybody understands the measures you’re taking to keep your employees safe and to keep customers safe, and that’s the way that we can build confidence together that we are taking the appropriate measures that we all need to do to make sure that we can kickstart our economy and…that we’re doing all we can to protect each other in this next phase,” she said.

      As she said yesterday, events with large numbers of people won’t be taking place during the pandemic, but she added that is the case not only in B.C. but also around the world.

      She said they have seen examples of outbreaks in South Korea linked to bars and nightclubs, and other outbreaks around the world connected to funerals, birthday parties, concerts, and conferences.

      “These are environments where we know this virus can take off,” she said. “And often it’s young people who may not actually realize they’re infected, or have very mild illness, and then we bring it home to our families and our communities.”

      She also said that gyms are among the locations that will remain closed during Phase 2, but could reopen possibly in the third phase.

      “We have had transmission of this virus in gyms in B.C. and that’s why…there were [closure] orders in some parts of the province,” she said.

      To reopen gyms, she said, numerous factors will need to be considered, including the number of people at a facility, the size of facility, and cleaning ability.

      Social bubbles

      Just as some businesses may not reopen for various reasons, Dr. Henry pointed out that not every person has to or may be able to expand their social circle. 

      “Even as we shift into this next phase, not everyone will be ready to increase their social connection or restart their businesses at the same time,” she said. “Just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean that everyone must or should change what they’re doing now.”

      Although she recognized that many are people seeking a set of clear directions and rules, she explained that each person has to determine their own personal approach to next phase based upon relevant factors, including health, work, and people within social bubbles.

      “We recognize that everybody’s circumstances are unique,” she said. “We all have our own experiences of this and we all have our own experience of our households and our families that we need to keep in mind.”

      While she had previously mentioned that handshaking and hugging would continue to be discouraged during this phase, she clarified that it’s okay to hug those people within your social bubble.

      “Hug your grandparents, if they’re your people; hug your friends, if you haven’t seen them, the friends who you’ve chosen to be each other’s bubble—that’s important,” she said. “And, of course, hug your family, your household, every day, and…especially hug your teenage sons and daughters.”

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