Drum circle at Vancouver beach attracted 'wall of humanity,' despite COVID-19 concerns
Dr. Bonnie Henry appeals to public to keep groups small, stay a safe distance
A witness who saw a large crowd of people drumming and dancing close together on a Vancouver beach Tuesday night says it was a reckless thing to do during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several photos and videos shared on social media show a crowded party atmosphere during the weekly informal drum circle at Third Beach in Stanley Park, with little evidence of physical distancing or masks.
Ryan Schaap told CBC that he visited the beach with friends at around 6 p.m., and everyone seemed to be physically distancing in the area where they were sitting.
"As we were leaving, you just started seeing more and more people walking past with their drums, and a surprising amount of people began to pull up, and you look over and you see this wall of humanity," he said.
Schaap estimates that by the time he left, there were more than 100 people crowded together dancing. B.C. has banned all gatherings of more than 50 people, and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said she does not foresee lifting that ban anytime soon.
Henry addressed the Third Beach gathering during her COVID-19 briefing Wednesday afternoon.
"Being outside means it's less risky. But it's not zero risk," Henry said, appealing to people to keep their groups small and stay a safe distance from others.
Others who witnessed the beach gathering have told CBC they reached out to police and the city to report what was happening, but no action was taken. A city spokesperson said Vancouver's role is to provide education about the importance of physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings, but any enforcement is the responsibility of the province.
The province says bylaw officers can enforce provincial health orders, although their approach is primarily to educate and provide guidance to people.
Vancouver Park Board spokesperson Christine Ulmer said the event was not sanctioned.
"We are concerned about the potential risk to individuals who participated, particularly considering the increase in positive COVID-19 cases over the past week," Ulmer said in an email.
Dr. Michael Curry, an emergency room physician, said large gatherings have the potential to become "super-spreader" events, where one patient with COVID-19 can spread to multiple other people.
"Hopefully nobody in that group had COVID-19. But if somebody did, this is the type of event we're really trying to prevent, because this could spread COVID-19 very efficiently," Curry said.
He also said if there was an outbreak connected to the event, contact tracing would be "virtually impossible," presuming many people at the event didn't know each other.
'It definitely was upsetting'
Schaap said he was offended by what he saw, and worries it could set back the progress B.C. has made on preventing transmission of the virus — especially when the province is seeing a surge in new cases.
"To see so many people get together…. It is a reckless thing to do when you're that close and there's so many people. It definitely was upsetting and it was just unnecessary on so many levels," he said.
A group called Brahm's Tams has held drum circles on Tuesdays at Third Beach since 2006.
But organizers cancelled the weekly event in March at the beginning of the pandemic, writing on Facebook that the suspension would remain in effect "until the authorities say large gatherings are again permitted and are not a health risk."
CBC has reached out to organizers for comment.
With files from Zahra Premji and Micki Cowan