British Columbia·CBC Explains

What you need to know about B.C.'s new rules on socializing indoors

Dr. Bonnie Henry issued the public health order on Monday, amid record-high new cases of COVID-19, limiting gatherings inside private homes to six guests plus household members.

Dr. Bonnie Henry issued the public health order on Monday, amid record-high new cases of COVID-19

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has ordered gatherings in private homes be limited to the members of household plus the host's 'safe six.' (Mike McArthur/CBC)

As the number of people being infected with COVID-19 surges upward in British Columbia, health officials are making changes to reduce the spread of the disease and make contact tracing more manageable.

On Monday B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a public health order limiting gatherings at private homes to members of the household and six guests. The order includes indoor and outdoor gatherings at private homes.

Rules limiting any gathering to 50 people remain in place.

Here's what you need to know about the latest rules and guidelines for indoor social interactions in B.C.:

Who can be on your guest list?

Henry refers to a "safe six" — a term she has favoured in recent weeks to describe the small group of close friends and extended family with whom you can socialize, in addition to members of your household.

It should be a consistent group of people.

Henry noted that in some cases, a household plus six people may be too large.

Some spaces are still too small for this number of people, and everyone has a different circumstance to consider, including their other activities like work, school, and sports, and whether they or people they come into contact with have underlying health conditions which put them at greater risk if they contract COVID-19.

What does 'safe six' mean?

The B.C. Health Ministry says your "safe six" group should remain the same and each member of the group should have you as one of their "safe six" as well. 

A ministry spokesperson said this does not mean the entire group is expected to be an exclusive, isolated group of six people, but rather a group that reduces overall contacts and makes it easier for tracers to identify potential exposures.

The spokesperson also said each member of a household can have their own "safe six."

Is 'safe six' the same as a bubble?

Earlier in the pandemic, the idea of a bubble was used by health officials to describe how individuals should limit their social contact.

A bubble was initially your immediate household, but as part of the province's Restart Plan, the bubble was allowed to increase to a small number of additional people.

While the concept is still highlighted on provincial government websites, like Dr. Bonnie Henry's Good Times Guide and the Phase 3 Restart page, the term has recently fallen out of favour with Henry, as she opts for "safe six," which is different.

Now health officials say that physical distancing is not required with your "safe six" group — although it's still recommended for added safety — but hugging and kissing should be limited to household members.  

Friends and family don't have to keep a distance if they're part of the same 'safe six' group, but hugging and kissing should be saved for members of the same household, say health officials. (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Should gatherings at home look like the 'beforetimes'?

While physical distancing isn't required within your household and "safe six," the B.C. Centre for Disease Control has some suggestions to make gatherings safer to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19:

  • Physical distancing is still recommended — using larger rooms will help with this.
  • Choose well-ventilated areas, and open windows if possible. 
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces the people often touch, and avoid touching surfaces when possible. 
  • Wash hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
  • Avoid passing people closely in narrow hallways.
  • Limit time together indoors. Spend time on patios or outdoors as much as possible.
  • Try to bring your own plates, glasses, and utensils.
  • Avoid serving food buffet style.

What about masks?

The use of masks at private gatherings, where people are expected to be eating and drinking, isn't addressed in the new public health order.  

On Monday, Henry said the expectation is that people will wear masks in all public places in B.C.,  but stopped short of mandating them. While some people have wondered if this includes sidewalks, parks and other outdoor public places,  masks are only recommended for indoor public spaces, according to the provincial government website updated Monday.

 Do you have more to add to this story? Email rafferty.baker@cbc.ca

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

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