British Columbia

No 'safe 6' in Fraser Health area as residents are asked to restrict gatherings to household members only

Dr. Bonnie Henry has asked people to keep gatherings to their immediate household plus six, but in the health region hit hardest by COVID-19 in B.C., people are being told even this is too risky right now.

Region has reported 7,529 cases since the start of the pandemic

A health-care worker directs a person waiting in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in the Fraser Health region on Aug. 12. Of the 817 COVID-19 cases reported over the weekend, 81 per cent are from the region. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

While the provincial health officer wants British Columbians to limit private gatherings to household members plus a "safe six," officials in the B.C. region worst hit by COVID-19 are telling residents that even those guidelines are too risky.

Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, the Fraser Health Authority's interim chief medical health officer, says she wants people to start limiting home gatherings to only those who live there, excepting the occasional family visitor.

"We are not suggesting that it is not OK to have mom come over for a cup of coffee, but it's the larger gatherings and the celebrations that are causing us difficulties," said Brodkin on CBC's The Early Edition on Wednesday.

Of the more than 800 new cases of COVID-19 reported in B.C. over the weekend, 81 per cent are from the Fraser Health area — which covers an area from Burnaby and Delta east to Hope — despite it having around 40 per cent of the province's population.

Health officials have reiterated over the past week that a spike in cases in the region is linked to weddings, funerals, gender reveal parties, and other milestone life events where people have played fast and loose with health and safety protocols.

Henry has restricted the number of attendees at events to 50 maximum if physical distancing is respected. 

Brodkin suggests if people want to mark milestone occasions with people who do not live with them, they do so at a hotel, restaurant or other venue where a COVID-19 safety plan is in place.

"The more these households come together and combine, the easier it is for this virus to spread," warned Brodkin.

Kids go house to house while trick-or-treating in Vancouver on Oct. 31, 2019. This year, Fraser Health is asking people not to host private Halloween parties because it could result in more COVID-19 cases in the region. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Hiatus on Halloween parties

Health officials in the region are also urging people not to hold private parties this Halloween weekend.

Brodkin says it's fine to take children trick-or-treating in a safe way or get together in a restaurant, but people should refrain from gathering in homes.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has issued safe Halloween instructions advising families that outdoor trick-or-treating in small groups distanced from others on sidewalks and doorsteps is a safe option. It also says to avoid indoor gatherings.

Brodkin says the region seems to be a hot spot for COVID-19 because it has the highest density of multi-generational people living in close proximity to each other, making it easier for the virus to circulate.

She says health officials don't want to return to the restrictions imposed at the start of the pandemic, which saw many venues close, but action will be taken depending on the rise in case numbers.

Since the ethics commissioner's office began in 2020, a total of 71 complaints have been received, resolving and closing 59 of those while two have been made public on the city website, both against mayor Doug McCallum. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'Now is the time to get really tough'

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said education and enforcement are the best ways to get a handle on the problem.

He told CBC Wednesday he has created a series of social media videos to remind the public to be vigilant about the virus.

"Now is the time to get really tough," said the mayor of the Fraser Health area's largest city, adding enforcement teams are out every day looking for rule-breakers.

Fraser Health has reported 7,529 cases since the start of the pandemic with most of the infections in people aged 20 to 29.

According to Brodkin, the current positive test rate for residents in Fraser Health is four per cent, meaning approximately four out of 100 people tested for COVID-19 have had the disease.

With files from The Canadian Press and Bridgette Watson


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