British Columbians must now wear masks in all indoor public places, officials announced, as part of sweeping new measures to crack down on the province’s second wave of COVID-19.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that she reversed her stance on the issue after hearing that businesses were concerned about having to enforce guidelines on mask-wearing in a bid to slow the spread of the disease.
“You name it, for the most part,” Henry said, referring to the wide list of places included under the new rules such as grocery stores, shopping malls, and restaurants when not eating or drinking.
She noted again that the recent spike in transmission has not been between workers and the public, but between workers themselves in places like break rooms and car pools.
“This is one of those things we did very reluctantly. But right now, I have concern we have transmission happening even if it’s with the seemingly appropriate measures in place. This is a measure I feel is important now.”
The province also extended the Nov 7. ban on social gatherings in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions to December, and expanded it to the entire province.
All British Columbians are asked to avoid non-essential travel and have social gatherings only with those in your immediate household.
“It is okay to go for a walk outside with a friend. It is okay for the grandparents to pick up the kids at school. It is okay to fix the furnace at your mother’s house. Those are not social events,” Henry said.
“You can have your cleaning person come into your home. The goal of these measures is to reduce our social measures.”
Along with the broad new orders, Henry reported 538 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday — the fewest in a 24-hour period since Nov. 11 — as well as one new death.
Other numbers, such as hospitalizations, continued to hit new highs: 217 people are in hospital with the disease, while the number of active cases reached 6,929.
It was not immediately what brought about the drop in overall new cases.
Additionally, the province restricted community events, including faith-based gatherings, until Dec. 7.
In-person religious services are banned until then, except for weddings, baptisms and funerals. Those events are capped at 10 people. Any gatherings before or after these events, such as receptions, are not allowed.
Churches and other religious spaces can still be used for child care and self-help meetings.
The province is also pleading with people to avoid all non-essential travel within the province, with officials acknowledging a further blow to tourism operators but urging people to stay in their own communities.
The new orders will not impact hair salons and restaurants, Henry added, but customers can only visit with people in their immediate households.
“We want to keep those businesses open and functioning safely,” she said. “I want to remind everyone the basic protection measures must be maintained.”
The province will also work with WorkSafeBC to increase enforcement at businesses right away, she said, such as bars and pubs where safety guidelines are not being followed.
“We will shut them down if we see them being an area of transmission,” Henry said.