B.C. declares COVID-19 outbreak in Central Okanagan, reimposes mask mandate
New cases in region located in and around Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country
British Columbia is declaring a COVID-19 outbreak in the Central Okanagan after a rapid rise in cases in the region and is reimposing a local mask mandate, as well as other public health measures.
More than half of B.C.'s daily and active COVID-19 cases are concentrated in the area, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday during a teleconference.
"We are concerned in public health about the rapid increase in the Central Okanagan, particularly around the Kelowna area," said Henry, who was joined by Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Sue Pollock, chief medical health officer for Interior Health.
Under the new health order, masks will be mandatory as of midnight in indoor public spaces for anyone over the age of 12. They are also being encouraged outdoors when people cannot physically distance themselves.
Travel to and from the region, which includes Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland and Lake Country, is also being strongly discouraged unless individuals are fully immunized.
"It's time to slow down and step back to protect our community," Pollock said at the teleconference.
She said the region will also be reducing the interval between first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 28 days.
A return to normal for gatherings was announced on July 1 as part of Step 3 of the province's restart plan, but Pollock said it's recommended that people in the Okanagan avoid indoor gatherings in favour of outdoor ones.
Casinos, nightclubs, fitness studios are all still allowed to stay open in the area, but no dancing or mingling is allowed. Officials also promised greater enforcement in fitness studios, where they have seen linked cases.
Pollock said the new cases in Interior Health since July 1 have primarily involved people who are 20 to 40 years old and those who are not fully vaccinated.
On Wednesday, 185 new cases were announced in B.C., 113 of those in Interior Health.
In the last week, a number of businesses in the Central Okanagan have been forced to close because of illness. Pollock says enforcement will be stepped up as officials follow up with establishments where three or more cases of COVID-19 have occurred.
"It's just disappointing that we have to implement these restrictions. But given the climbing case count, it's the appropriate thing to do," Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said after the announcement.
Basran said he's thankful further measures weren't taken, but warned it could get worse if people don't take the restrictions seriously.
Henry said the spread of the delta variant in the area is especially concerning, but she believes the new measures will help flatten the spike in numbers.
"Because of the good work we have all done, I am confident that the measures that we are going to take will stop people from getting sick and will prevent ongoing transmission," she said.
She said vaccination remains incredibly important: "Immunization is really the tool that gets us through this."
With files from Justin McElroy