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Dr. Bonnie Henry issues regional restrictions amid COVID-19 surge in B.C., Northern Health not included

Another 567 cases announced in B.C. during the past day
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B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. (via Government of B.C. Flickr)

At a rare Saturday press conference, Dr. Bonnie Henry dropped the hammer. 

With yesterday seeing a new B.C. single-day case count record with 589 cases, officials announced they would address British Columbians this afternoon (Nov. 7). 

Henry announced another 567 new cases in the past 24 hours.

Northern Health holds nine of the new cases which sees the authority total rise to 459. 

Another death has been recorded which brings the fatality rate to 276.

B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry issued a series of regional health orders on November 7 that will be in effect for two weeks starting at 10 p.m. tonight. 

The orders focus on social gatherings, travel, group physical activities, indoor group activities and workplaces, Henry said. 

They will be in effect in the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions, with the exception of the Central Coast in Bella Coola Valley.

"Right now, it is very important that everyone in these areas of Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health significantly reduce their social interactions," Henry said.

"There are to be no social gatherings of any size with anyone other than your immediate household."

The new order includes indoor gatherings of fewer than 50 people, even in controlled settings, so it supersedes the province's mass-gathering order that it has had in place for some time.

"Funerals and weddings may proceed with your immediate household but there are to be no associated receptions inside or outside your home or at any public or community-based venues," she said. 

"This is a time-limited order but this is what we need to do now."

With regard to travel, Henry said she is strongly recommending that travel into and out of areas of Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health should be limited to essential travel only.

"Those who live outside these areas should not visit unless it is urgently required, or essential, and travel through only when needed," Henry said. 

"Travel for sports, into and out of this region, is suspended for this period of time."

Henry said group physical activities have led to significant spread of the virus that has caused a global pandemic. 

"As of today, businesses, recreation centers or other organizations that organize or operate indoor group physical activities, must stop holding these activities, until updated COVID-19 safety plans are in place so they can be held safely,"Henry said.

Those updated safety plans would need to be approved by local medical health officers, she added. 

"This includes spin classes, yoga classes, group fitness, dance classes, or other group indoor activities, where people are increasing their heart rate," she said. "We have seen repeatedly, not just here, but around the world, that these are venues that we see rapid spread of this virus, even with people who don't recognize that they are ill."

The new ban includes indoor competitions and games, including sports such as minor hockey.

"For workplace safety, all businesses and work sites must conduct active in-person screening according to our COVID safety plans for their workers on site now," she said.

"They must go back to those plans and reinforce the importance that they have. Workplaces must ensure that all workers and customers maintain appropriate physical distancing, wear masks as appropriate, and be especially vigilant in small-office spaces, in break rooms and kitchens."

This, she said, is where the province has seen people transmit the virus in work settings.

"If we cannot maintain those plans, then local medical health officers will shut those businesses down"

If restaurants cannot adhere to COVID-19 safety plans, Henry suggested that they revert to take-out only service. 

"In addition, we need to consider going back to actively supporting people working from home in certain businesses, if that is possible," she said.

The BC Centre for Disease Control’s (BCCDC) latest Health Service Delivery Area report, which calculates the number of infections in each region from the previous two weeks, says Northern Health totalled 67 positive tests for the virus between Oct. 23 and Nov. 5.

This included 35 in the northern interior, which consists of Prince George and its surrounding communities, which matched the authority’s entire total from the two weeks prior to yesterday’s update and an overall increase of 32.

The northwest was quieter since Oct. 23 with just nine COVID-19 cases.

There was a 10-case increase in the northeast with 23 in the last 14 days.

Those 67 regional infections nearly match what was recorded in the middle of September, 71 between Sept. 11 and 24, which rounded out the Labour Day weekend testing and subsequent two-week incubation period.

There are 11 schools that have been listed for potential COVID-19 exposure since the virus reached Northern Health are as follows:

  • Ron Brent Elementary School - Oct. 30, 2020
  • Roosevelt Park Elementary School (SD52) - Oct. 21-22, 2020
  • Immaculate Conception School (Independent, Diocese of Prince George) - Oct. 21-23, 2020
  • Fort Nelson Secondary School (SD81) - Oct. 15-16, 2020
  • Notre Dame School (Private) - Oct. 13-14, 2020
  • Prince George Secondary School (SD57) - Oct. 2, 2020
  • Dawson Creek Secondary School - South Peace Campus (SD59) - Sept. 23-25, 2020
  • David Hoy Elementary School (SD91) - Sept. 17-18, 2020
  • Quesnel Junior Secondary School (SD28) - Sept. 10-11, 15-18, 2020
  • Nak’albun Elementary School (Independent) - Sept. 16-18, 2020
  • Ecole Frank Ross Elementary School (SD59) - Sept. 10-11, 2020

This marks the second School District 57 (SD57) institution and third local school marked for COVID-19.

Should a student or teacher receive a positive COVID-19 test in any case, Northern Heath's school notification process is as follows:

  • Contact tracing is initiated to determine how the individual was infected and who they were in close contact with
  • We identify and notify close contacts who may be at an increased risk, and advise them to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms for 14 days
  • Only Public Health can determine who is a close contact
    • Learning groups, friends or other connections may not be determined to be a close contact
  • Public Health staff works closely with the school and school district throughout the case and contact management process to maintain close communication with the school community.

- With files from Kyle Balzer, PrinceGeorgeMatters, Glen Kordstrom, Business In Vancouver