British Columbia

Multi-day events like weddings, funerals linked to COVID-19 surge, B.C. doctor says

The president of British Columbia's largest health authority says multi-day events including weddings, funerals and gender-reveal parties have caused a surge in COVID-19 cases.

President of Fraser Health says some gatherings are being reported to municipalities

A banquet hall is pictured in Surrey, B.C. on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Dr. Victoria Lee says any gatherings should be limited to the six people in your social bubble. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The president of British Columbia's most highly populated health authority says multi-day events including weddings, funerals and gender-reveal parties have caused a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Victoria Lee, the CEO of Fraser Health, says different groups of up to 50 people typically come together for a single event that can go on for days.

She says about 70 per cent of the record number of 203 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday were linked to Fraser Health, which serves a mostly urban population of 1.8 million people.

Lee says people should stick to the same six people beyond those in their household to keep cases low at a time when "pandemic fatigue" is setting in.

She says some gatherings are being reported to municipalities and that may require the authority to have "further conversations" around bylaw officers enforcing measures aimed at reducing the spread of the pandemic.

Lee says the recent high number of cases could also be linked to gatherings at Thanksgiving.

A health-care worker directs a waiting motorist in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Aug. 12. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

New measures could help

On Thursday, a record 274 new cases were announced in B.C., with 203 of those in the Fraser Health area.

During that announcement, Dr. Bonnie Henry said she was concerned about the surge in cases and may introduce new measures to curb virus transmission.

Henry hinted this week she may introduce new measures to prevent transmission at gatherings like weddings and funerals, which she said could include conditions on wedding licences and reducing the province's current 50-person limit on gatherings. 

"Every gathering needs to be our own household only and, at maximum, our safe six," said Henry.

WATCH | Dr. Bonnie Henry says current measures at weddings, funerals are not working:

B.C. considers regulating weddings and funerals after surge in COVID-19 cases

2 years ago
Duration 1:40
Dr. Bonnie Henry's warning comes as Fraser Health reports a number of social gatherings lasting days has led to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the province.

Lee said Friday she agrees with the provincial health officer.

"If the trends continue the way we are seeing this week, we need to have additional measures as Dr. Henry mentioned," said Lee on CBC's The Early Edition.

She said health authorities are already working with local police, bylaw officers and WorkSafeBC to mitigate risk in the region.

Lee also suggested employers re-evaluate their workplace safety plans in the wake of the record-breaking new case numbers.

While Fraser Health area is the worst hit region in B.C., Lee said it is still faring better than regions elsewhere in the country.

According to Lee, the region's rate of new cases is about 53 per million per day, compared to over 60 a day nationwide and over 100 in Quebec.

Protocols in place at funeral homes

Charlotte Poncelet, executive director of the B.C. Funeral Association, says Henry's comments were surprising since she's not aware of any funeral home or crematorium in B.C. that has had an outbreak. She said her organization has reached out to the ministry to seek clarification on whether there has been transmission at private events or gatherings after people have left the funeral homes.

"We're not certain where this is coming from. Our funeral homes have put into place protocols that exceed the public health order as well as the WorkSafeBC orders," she said.

Poncelet says the association has been working closely with public health officials to facilitate safe funerals for families. 

She notes there is a mental health cost to not having the ability to grieve the loss of a loved one in a timely fashion — and also for the front-line funeral staff who have had to enforce measures and make difficult choices to maintain COVID protocols.

Poncelet says they had to increase staff ratios to make sure people adhere to public health orders and in some cases, have had to lock the doors at the funeral home to keep people out so as to not exceed capacity.

"That's not how we want this to happen, but again, safety is our utmost concern," said Poncelet.

Rule-breakers ruining reputations

Maureen Brown of Emerald Events in Surrey said she is tired of seeing others flout the rules when she is following them.

"Those are the kinds of things that give us such a bad reputation," said Brown on Friday on CBC's The Early Edition, adding she is a member of the Fraser Valley Event Planning Association and follows all provincial health protocols.

She said she has turned down clients who have pressured her to break the rules, but assumes those people went ahead with their parties without her.

Maureen Brown of Emerald Events is pictured in a banquet hall in Surrey, British Columbia on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"People are going to do what they're going to do. I don't know if Dr. Henry is going to stop that," said Brown.

She said she has lost almost all her business this year and will likely have to call brides whose weddings she already shifted to this coming spring and tell them they will have to reschedule again because of the surge in cases.

Brown also has one client who has been waiting since last spring to hold a celebration of life for her daughter.

"It's devastating," said Brown.

Based on the success of the few micro events Brown has done, she said if people follow the rules then keeping the guest list at 50 is manageable.

Tap here to listen to the complete interview with Maureen Brown on The Early Edition.

With files from The Canadian Press, The Early Edition, On The Coast


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