New restrictions for bars, restaurants as virus trends upward

Vancouver Island has a new case of COVID-19, one of 34 new cases announced on Wednesday as the province continues to post infections in the double digits. It’s an upward trend that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is hoping to tackle in part with new orders restricting some activities in bars and restaurants and at events.

“The B.C. COVID-19 curve is trending in the direction we do not want,” said Henry. “We all need to take a step back and look at the things that we need to do to bend our curve back down, where we need to keep it.”

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The orders, with guidance from WorkSafe B.C., include a requirement that all patrons have a designated seat, a ban on self-serve liquor and dance floors, as well as measures to reduce lineups and pressure points. Also new is a restriction on hours, with events closings at 11 p.m. in recognition that drinking into the night increases the likelihood people will bend the rules, said Henry.

“People were allowed to stand at tables rather than sit and then, of course, after having a few drinks, people felt that they could mingle more freely,” said Henry. “So we’re putting in some things to make it a calmer environment, to keep those separations.”

It’s up to people managing restaurants, bars and events to ensure people are following the rules, said Henry, adding there will be more inspections.

Henry appealed to patrons not to pressure servers to pull restaurant and pub tables together for larger groups or to overlook people mixing between tables. Spending minimal time together and keeping physical distance between people is more effective than using masks, Henry said.

Of the 34 new cases, 31 represent positive tests while three were epidemiologically related to other cases. There are 285 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C.

No new deaths were announced, leaving the total at 189.

About 1,000 people are in isolation in the province for 14 days because of their close contacts with someone who is infected, and some of them will develop COVID-19, said Henry.

Early on in the pandemic, infected people had up to 120 contacts, but after restrictions came into effect, that number fell to about three. “Right now, we’re starting to see that sweep up again.”

While so far the approach to tackling the pandemic has been provincewide, Henry said Interior Health is looking at additional restrictions to stem outbreaks in the Okanagan. Public-health officials there are finding infected people with 20 to 30 contacts, some of whom they didn’t know, “and that makes it much more challenging for us to find people in a timely way,” she said.

Contact tracers want to find people 24 to 48 hours before they start to show symptoms.

The Okanagan isn’t the only place where transmissions are happening, said Henry, who urged all British Columbians to stay in smaller groups.

“People are traveLling, they’re getting together and they’re enjoying this summer, but we need to do it with smaller groups,” said Henry. “We need to make sure we know who we’re with, so that if somebody inadvertently brings [COVID] to our bubble, we’re able to protect everybody as rapidly as we can.”

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix implored British Columbians not to lose the gains they’ve made, adding the majority of COVID-19 transmissions occur between family and friends.

“We have a responsibility here, all of us, together, to ensure that we all maintain physical distancing,” said Dix. “It is not too late to recommit to stopping the spread of COVID-19 in B.C. We must go back to what we know works.”

Aside from keeping contact numbers small, that includes physical distancing, washing hands regularly for 20 seconds with soap and water, respecting rules put in place by businesses such as restaurants, wearing a mask when physical distancing is not possible, and staying home if sick.

To date, 3,362 people have been infected with COVID-19 in B.C., including 1,049 in the Vancouver Coastal health region, 1,742 in the Fraser health region, 141 in the Vancouver Island health region, 304 in the interior health region, and 69 in the Northern health region.

There are three health-care outbreaks, including one in a long-term care home and two in acute-care hospitals.

Seventeen people are in hospital with COVID-19, including three in intensive-care units.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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