COVID-19 cases surge again in B.C.; 41 added to Island count

B.C.’s public health officer is urging people to avoid non-essential travel amid surging COVID-19 case numbers, with 1,959 people diagnosed with the virus between Friday and Monday, including 41 people on Vancouver Island. Nine people died over the weekend, bringing the province’s death toll to 299.

“I call upon people across the province, we need to go back to how we were thinking earlier this spring,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry during a news ­conference on Monday.

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“We know that the virus comes with us and when we travel we bring that risk with us and we take home the risk from where we’ve been. So now is not the time to travel for recreational or non-essential purposes.”

B.C. continues to hit a record number of daily cases during the second wave, with 654 new ones from Friday to Saturday, 659 from Saturday to ­Sunday and 646 Sunday to Monday. There are 99 active cases in the Island Health region, 30 of which are on south Vancouver Island, 50 on the central Island and 19 on the north Island.

A total of 22,944 people have contracted COVID-19 in B.C. since the pandemic started in March. Of the 6,279 active cases across the province, 181 are in hospital, 57 in critical or intensive care. Almost 11,000 people under active health monitoring for the virus.

The provincial health office has said only essential travel is permitted in and out of the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions, where the bulk of the COVID-19 cases are concentrated. However, Henry said as cases rise in other communities, ­people across the province should be sticking closer to home.

Henry ruled out the lockdown-style restrictions seen in the spring — where non-essential businesses were closed and schools operated remotely — because there has not been widespread transmission in schools, restaurants, salons or retail stores.

In September, Henry imposed a 10 p.m. cut-off for alcohol sales at bars and restaurants, or 11 p.m. if they serve food, saying people drinking late at night are more likely to flout COVID-19 rules.

Henry stressed that wearing masks in indoor public spaces is important, but she once again ruled out a mandatory mask order.

The Retail Council of Canada and a group called Masks4Canada have endorsed mandatory mask policies and some B.C. businesses have said such a policy would reduce conflict with customers who refuse to wear a mask.

A change.org petition calling on B.C. to mandate masks in public spaces has more than 20,000 signatures.

However, Henry said the virus is spreading inside private homes during social gatherings where people are not wearing masks and are not always keeping social distance. As a result, a mask mandate for public settings would not make a significant difference in limiting transmission of the virus, she said. She also said provinces that have instituted a mandatory mask policy are still struggling with surging COVID-19 cases.

Businesses are required to have a COVID-19 safety plan, which often includes requiring staff and customers to wear masks and providing masks to people who don’t have one, Henry said.

Henry pointed to Quebec where the onus is on businesses to make sure that masks are available and on individuals to understand the rules of the business they’re entering.

“What I’m saying is as a community, we need to recognize that those are rules that keep workers safe and keep us safe when we’re in those businesses, those restaurants, those retail stores. …

“What’s going to make a difference is that people know clearly the rules in the situation they’re going into.”

Henry raised concerns that enforcement and fines can disproportionately target racialized people and those living in poverty or people without homes.

People can limit the spread of the virus, Henry said, by avoiding private gatherings with people outside their household, particularly for people living in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions. People outside those health areas should limit social gatherings to their household plus their “safe six” bubble.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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