British Columbia

B.C.'s summer promises to be 'unique,' but what does that actually mean?

It definitely won't be a normal summer filled with big weddings and crowded festivals, but one with a bit more social interaction than we've come to expect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says 'smaller is better; outside is safer than inside'

Dr. Bonnie Henry says British Columbians should be prepared for a 'unique summer' in light of COVID-19. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

British Columbians can expect a "unique summer" this year, according to the provincial health officer — definitely not a normal summer filled with big weddings and crowded festivals, but one with a bit more social interaction than we've come to expect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But when Dr. Bonnie Henry offered a vision for the months ahead during her daily briefing on Monday, it was light on the specifics.

"I think we've shown in B.C. that we know how to manage this outbreak, that we can take the measures we need," Henry said Monday as she unveiled modelling that suggests it will be possible to eventually double our current social interactions while still containing the novel coronavirus.

"Now's our time to start thinking about how we're going to have this unique summer together."

On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan is expected to reveal a more detailed plan for the next phase of B.C.'s pandemic response.

Henry's briefing was more about the science and math behind the province's decision-making, and how the measures taken to date have helped B.C. flatten the curve and keep hospitalizations low.

But she did offer a teaser of brighter and more social days ahead.

Little League will 'look different'

What we know for sure is that the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people won't be lifted this summer.

We don't know whether health officials will endorse things like neighbourhood barbecues, visits with elderly family members or weekends with friends at a cabin on a lake.

We also don't know if B.C. will follow the lead of provinces like New Brunswick and Newfoundland, which have asked residents to form two-household "bubbles" as physical distancing recommendations are loosened.

One of B.C.'s guiding principles will be "smaller is better; outside is safer than inside," Henry said.

"We can do Little League baseball, for example, but it'll look different this summer."

For his part, Baseball B.C.'s executive director, David Laing, said the organization has been working on protocol for a potential return to play, and told CBC, "there's maybe an opportunity to move into competition environments where modified games could be considered."

Henry said that as our social circles widen, we should also consider how to include people who are more vulnerable to illness without actually meeting them in person.

Andrew and Molly Kavanagh participate in a virtual trivia night with friends at their apartment in downtown Vancouver on March 20. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

University of Victoria social psychologist Frederick Grouzet said he's found it useful to pay attention to Henry's advice about slowly expanding the small circle of people we interact with.

He said it's helpful to think carefully about each person you add to that circle, who they might have contact with, and the potential for exposure on both ends.

Going forward, Grouzet said health officials need to give concrete examples of what is and isn't acceptable social interaction.

One potential message might be to compare how people behave when they have a contagious disease to how they should behave this summer.

"When you have the traditional flu and you are sick, you try to protect yourself but also others, so you don't try to interact with a lot of people, you don't shake hands, you stay away. The same logic is there," Grouzet said.

With files from Meera Bains