Small birthday party results in COVID-19 death; Henry says we're in a 'danger zone'

An 80-year-old woman who contracted COVID-19 at a small birthday party has died, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday, as she announced 234 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C., including three in Island Health.

Someone unknowingly brought the virus into a gathering of fewer than 10 people in a Fraser Health region home. Most people at the gathering were infected, and one “unfortunately ended up in hospital and died,” said Henry, adding B.C. is in a “danger zone” and needs to bend the curve of transmission back down.

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“Many of the new cases we have today are directly linked to gatherings in our homes and elsewhere that are now resulting in community transmission of COVID-19 across the province.”

There are now 86 people in hospital with COVID-19 in B.C., including 24 in critical or intensive care. One new death was announced on Thursday, and there are three new cases of COVID-19 in Island Health, bringing the total number of active cases to 10.

A new provincial health order limits the number of people that can gather in homes to household members plus an additional “safe six.”

Henry said those living in multi-generational families should not take part in higher-risk activities such as going to the gym, since they could bring the virus home to a more vulnerable household member.

She said the number of new cases has been particularly high in the Fraser Health region, the largest in the province, serving 1.8 million people.

Dr. Victoria Lee, president and CEO of Fraser Health Authority, made a special appearance at a media briefing in Surrey to say even small gatherings can be risky. Lee urged people to socialize in public outdoor spaces such as parks or COVID-19-safe businesses, rather than their homes.

Henry said Halloween trick or treating can still be done in a small, safe way, but house parties are out. “This is because many of the things we do at parties and celebrations — things like walking and hugging and eating and drinking together indoors — are much, much riskier, particularly now.”

At home, inhibitions are lessened and many don’t have the space for physical distancing, she said. “It’s those indoor settings when we’re close, when we’re talking to somebody, when we’re sharing food, when we’re in an environment where we let our guard down that it can be transmitted.”

There are now 2,344 active cases in the province, with another 5,714 people being monitored. The latter are quarantined and unable to go to work and school, said Henry.

About 10,000 people are being tested daily in the province.

As the province heads into flu season and people spend more time indoors as the weather cools, extra vigilance is needed, Henry said.

“We need all of us to think about not putting those expectations in place that people will come to our house for a celebration,” she said. “We need to make it OK for us to stay apart.

To date, there have been 14,109 cases of COVID-19 in the province: 4,588 in Vancouver Coastal Health, 8,036 in Fraser Health, 256 in Island Health, 734 Interior Health, and 406 Northern Health. Of those, 11,448 have recovered.

On Monday, Henry said everyone in indoor public settings — such as grocery stores and malls — should be wearing a cloth or non-medical mask, but she said Thursday there are no plans to make the mask policy an order, which some have called for.

“There’s no evidence that I’ve seen that making it mandatory is going to change the mind of those very small number of people who have a mindset against wearing a mask,” said Henry. “That’s not the approach we’re taking.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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