Sunny weather drives Vancouverites outdoors amid confusion around gathering rules
Expert says strict enforcement could drive people indoors and increase transmission
Hot and sunny weather had people flocking to Vancouver beaches and parks Saturday, raising concerns about transmission of COVID-19 as daily case counts reached record highs in British Columbia this week.
Despite evidence that the risk of transmission is significantly lower outdoors than indoors, some onlookers felt the crowds could use more caution.
"A little bit concerning, especially [because] I don't know if we're all sticking to our own households," said Mer Gregory from Kitsilano beach.
"I think it would be very difficult for any government to persuade people not to come down here when there's days like this," said Barry Coglan while enjoying the view at the beach.
Social media videos of crowds gathering and dancing at Kitsilano beach sparked calls for stricter enforcement of outdoor gathering rules, but some health experts say that could do more harm than good.
"The last thing we want to do is take away these outdoor recreation offerings and move people indoors where we know transmission is much worse," said Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health.
Mixed messaging from province
Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people in the same bubble are currently allowed in B.C., even though health officials have discouraged it.
"Even with that being an outlet for people I am discouraging that, especially if it's more than a small number of people and the same number of people," said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Monday.
Brauer, whose research focuses on air quality, says inconsistent messaging from health officials is making it harder for people to follow the rules.
"It's very hard for people to get a message, and then get a different message, and yet again a different message, and really try to understand all of this."
"The messaging has to change because this is a dynamic situation and we're learning more and more about this virus everyday," Brauer explained.
Police can issue fines up to $570 to individuals in violation of public health orders, but Vancouver city bylaw officers say they aren't focused on enforcement.
"We're not trying to enforce, we're trying to educate so everyone has a common focus. And if that doesn't work, then we'll call the police," explained lead ranger Chris Penton.
Best practices for outdoors
Even some of those with concerns about the crowds feel that enforcement isn't the right strategy.
"I think we're all adults and I think we can all make smart choices. It's been a year in a pandemic. Hopefully we've learnt how to make smarter choices," said Gregory.
Brauer says those who do choose to gather outside should take precautions such as distancing and wearing masks, especially with more transmissible variants on the rise.
"One rule people can just think about is if someone was smoking, would you be able to smell that smoke? Would that smoke be coming in your face? Then it's too close."
He predicts that even with cases in B.C. spiking, the seasonality of the virus will lead to a drop in indoor transmission as people spend more time outdoors and ventilation improves.
"This won't last forever. We will peak. Vaccinations will sort of take over and I still sort of feel we'll have a summer that's gonna have a lot of enjoyable time to it," Brauer said.
With files from Jon Hernandez