VICTORIA — British Columbia's top doctor is limiting the size of gatherings in private homes as COVID-19 infections rise, particularly in the province's Lower Mainland.
Dr. Bonnie Henry says gatherings are now limited to people in an immediate household, plus their so-called "safe six" guests.
"If you come from a large family that's living in a home together, six additional guests may be too many," the provincial health officer added during a news briefing on Monday.
"This is something we need to do together as a community so that we can get through the coming respiratory season and best protect each and every one of our families and our communities," she said.
B.C. has reported its highest-ever jump in infections over three days with 817 new cases detected between Friday and Monday. The province has confirmed 13,371 cases since the start of the pandemic, including 2,325 that are currently active.
There are 77 people in hospital and three more residents of long-term care homes have died after contracting the illness, bringing the death toll in B.C. to 259.
Henry said her new order may be subject to enforcement, but her hope is that everyone will do the right thing and it won't be needed.
Public health officials are examining if added measures are needed in areas where there is more transmission of the illness, said Henry.
"The immediate focus will be on the Fraser Health region," she said, because of the marked increase in cases related to social gatherings in private homes, such as weddings and funerals.
"This has been the case in every part of the province, but we know the risk is highest where there is more virus circulating in our community."
Henry said public health orders are a last resort, and the latest change reflects how seriously B.C. residents should be taking the pandemic.
"Social gatherings are where we are seeing significant transmission of COVID-19 in B.C. and it is not slowing down."
Henry also said her "expectation" now is that people wear face coverings in indoor public spaces, though it is not an order. She's asking businesses to review their pandemic safety plans with masks in mind.
Two schools in the Interior and Fraser Health regions have also been closed for the duration of the COVID-19 incubation period as a result of exposures affecting larger numbers of staff, she said.
"We knew, of course, this would be a possibility, especially in some of the smaller schools, where the potential of exposure impacts a larger proportion of the school population," said Henry. "And while the numbers of people with COVID are small, the requirement for those in contact to be in self-isolation has meant that the school can no longer safely operate."
The schools are working with families to make sure students have educational support during the temporary closures, she added.
Henry said there have been fewer than 10 transmission events at schools across the province, where the virus was actually passed from one person to another.
An outbreak has also been declared at the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre, she said, while an outbreak at a FedEx office in Kelowna is over.
— By Brenna Owen in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2020.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said there were 13,317 cases when there are 13,371 total cases.