British Columbia

How British Columbians can help control the spread of COVID-19 this fall

“We need to rethink gatherings, particularly ones that we're going to have indoors. As the weather changes and we move towards more indoors, we need to keep our visitors to a minimum,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says.

Social settings, especially indoors, are the big worry, experts say

As summer gives way to fall, many British Columbians are expected to choose the great indoors more often. What does that mean for efforts to control spread of the coronavirus? (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As cooler fall weather pushes people indoors and active COVID-19 case numbers reach new highs, British Columbians need to limit the spread of the coronavirus by going "back to basics," say health officials.

"That means going back to our layers of protection," said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

"We need to rethink gatherings, particularly ones that we're going to have indoors. As the weather changes and we move towards more indoors, we need to keep our visitors to a minimum."

Dr. Michael Curry, emergency room physician and clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia, said keeping to that guidance will be crucial once classes return in just over a week.

"There will be some increased transmission when schools open. There's no getting around that," Curry told BC Today host Michelle Eliot. 

"There is obviously a balancing act between what we need to do in terms of letting children go to school so the parents have the ability to work or otherwise lead their lives and also to get the kids educated versus protection from the virus."

It's important to remember, Curry said, that the much-discussed learning cohorts in schools are not going to be social bubbles. Within the cohorts, students will be expected to keep physical distance and mask if necessary.

It's close connections of family and friends that need a re-think, he said, especially in less controlled environments like homes or other social settings where safety procedures are relaxed.

Social connections key for health

The challenge in the fall, Curry said, will be maintaining social connections while cutting down on the spread of the coronavirus.

"Connecting with your friends and family that are going through the same thing, I think is priority number one," he said. "Social connection is one of the biggest determinants of health."

That might be especially difficult for older people, he said, who need to take the most precautions when it comes to coronavirus.

Ramona Captain, president of the White Rock chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, said that reality has led to tough choices for many older people who are losing out on time with young grandchildren going back to schools.

"It's kind of a wait and see. It's a real conundrum," Captain said.

Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko that the province needs to keep reopening but in a way that protects people most vulnerable to the virus.

Daly said the number of people someone is in contact with is less important than how that contact occurs and whether safety rules are being followed.

"When we're seeing transmission, it's often in places where people have not been following safety plans that we know could help limit spread."

Spread in young adults, she said, is going to happen. The key, she said, is to make sure the virus doesn't spread to more vulnerable people.

With files from CBC Radio One's BC Today and On the Coast

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