British Columbia

B.C. health officials urge caution as COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift

British Columbia is preparing to gradually gradually reopen the province, but Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is cautioning against abandoning physical distancing and other measures that have helped flatten the curve so far.

33 new cases, 2 more deaths. 76 in hospital, 20 in intensive care

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix give their daily COVID-19 update in Victoria. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The highlights: 

  • 33 more people have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • 2 more people have died in the past 24 hours.
  • There have been a total of 2,286 cases and 126 people have died.
  • 76 people are in hospital,  20 in intensive care.
  • 1,512 people have recovered.
  • No new outbreaks in long-term care homes, 18 previous outbreaks declared over.
  • 21 active outbreaks remain in long-term care homes.
  • Outbreaks remain at three B.C. poultry plants.
  • 134 cases at Mission Correctional Institution.
  • 16 cases related to Kearl Lake oilsands facility in Alberta.
  • Restrictions set to ease by long weekend but health officials urge continued vigilance.

British Columbia is preparing to gradually gradually reopen the province, but Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is cautioning against abandoning physical distancing and other measures that have helped flatten the curve so far.

A total of 33 new COVID-19 cases and two new deaths were announced in B.C. on Thursday. 

The province is in its first phase of loosening restrictions. Gatherings of up to six people will be permitted in time for the long weekend, but Henry said B.C. is not in the clear and a second wave of COVID-19 is possible.

"We must continue what we are doing for a bit longer. We must continue the measures we are taking to bend our curve down," Henry said.

"The future is in our hands and we must continue to wash them."

The province has made a correction to the total number of cases in the Island Health authority. Two cases were removed due to a data error, meaning the region now has a total of 125 cases. The provincial total on Thursday was 2,286.

'Double your bubble'

Henry said people should be mindful of increasing their risk of transmitting COVID-19 as they prepare to expand their social circles in the coming weeks. 

Watch | Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines how to safely expand your circle:

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, B.C.'s public health officer says people should cautiously resume interactions. 1:37

Henry acknowledged it's tough to provide "hard and fast rules" but offered some ideas for what this could look like:

  • No more than six people.
  • Maintain physical distancing.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Meeting outside is better than inside.
  • Seniors, those caring for elders, or those with health conditions should maintain current measures.

Henry said large events like concerts will not be permitted this summer.

"I don't see it happening this year. I hope that ... we have a vaccine rapidly and as we learn more about this virus we can get back to that kind of contact as soon as we can," she said. 

A limit of 50 people still applies to events like religious gatherings, and only if the space allows for proper physical distancing.

Restrictions on visitors will remain in place at long-term care homes, something Health Minister Adrian Dix said will have an impact on families ahead of Mother's Day. 

"We know how difficult it is. Personally, I know how difficult it is," he said.

"The primary goal is ensuring the safety and health of people in long-term care."

Henry said Thursday that people should still continue to stay home as much as possible and be cautious when they go out.

Physical distancing, avoiding non-essential travel and regular handwashing remain important, she said. 

Gyms, restaurants and other businesses

British Columbians could be dining-in at restaurants starting June 1, but reduced capacity and physical barriers mean it'll be a different experience than what we're used to.

On Thursday, the province said it could take up to two years and at least $250 million in extra funding to address the extensive backlog of elective surgeries postponed in B.C. since the peak of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, schools across B.C. are drafting plans to reopen, with teachers returning to classrooms as early as next week in some parts of the province, like Prince George.

For businesses preparing to reopen, Henry said a template and checklist for reopening safely is currently being prepared in collaboration with WorkSafeBC.

COVID-19 has been spread in gyms and Henry said she doesn't see gyms and fitness clubs being part of the province's second phase of reopening.

The province did not order gyms to close, but some municipalities put those restrictions in place to prevent transmission. Once gyms do reopen, Henry said there will be restrictions including ensuring physical distancing.

Henry said she believes businesses will "do the right thing" to protect employees and visitors but that reopening the province will have to be done "slowly and thoughtfully."

"I think people are eager to get through it." she said.

"If we move too fast too quickly, we're going to see dramatic increases. That will set us back in a whole number of ways."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca

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