British Columbia’s New Public Health Orders

British Columbia's New Public Health Orders | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all had to make major changes in our lives – from increasing hygiene frequency (i.e., hand washing), making sure we stay home when we’re sick (even if our symptoms are mild), to adapting to new routines with the way we go about work (with many businesses switching to a remote work model) and our social interactions. While some of the changes that come along with this pandemic may seem extreme to some and downright anxiety-inducing, they’re for our greater good. The quicker we adapt to these changes and follow public health advice, the sooner we’ll be able to get back to having some semblance of normalcy again.

Unfortunately, here in British Columbia, not everyone has heeded the recommendations of our local health officials. As you may be aware, our province has seen an alarmingly steady uptick in new daily COVID-19, the majority of which have stemmed from large gatherings held in private homes, with transmissions not only happening in households as a result of said gatherings, but also in workplaces and other public venues. As a result, our Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, alongside Health Minister Adrian Dix, announced new public health orders that would go into effect from 10 PM, November 7th, through to 12 PM, November 23rd for the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions, where COVID-19 cases are at their highest. While the orders do not apply to other health authorities such as Vancouver Island, Interior and Northern health, there have also been an increase in COVID-19 numbers in these areas, so people are asked to remain vigilant and take all precautions necessary to keep themselves, their loved ones, and those within their communities safe.

As for the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions, the newly applied orders have strict limitations directly related to social gatherings – and, for the next two weeks, individuals living in these regions cannot socialize with anyone outside of their immediate households. This means that there are to be no social gatherings of any size – and you should not be inviting people to your home or accepting invitations to the homes of others. This order also applies to outdoor socializing, as well as restaurants – which are allowed to remain open so long as they adhere to proper safety guidelines (i.e., physical distancing); however, you must stick to a table with your own household members. This means no calling up a friend or acquaintance to ask them if they want to grab a coffee somewhere or go for a bite to eat, go to a movie, etc. To put it into even easier context, these orders mean that you should only be interacting with those you spend the most time with and are physically close to on a regular basis. In the event that you live alone, you still cannot hose gatherings. However, you can continue to spend time with individuals whom you would otherwise consider to be part of your immediate household – either at home, outside, or at a restaurant.

The order also prohibits indoor group fitness activities. These activities would include things like spin classes, dance classes, yoga, etc. Businesses such as gyms and recreation/community centres that host these types of group activities must suspend them immediately – and may also need to close until a safety plan has been approved by their local medical health officer. If group fitness classes are part of your daily routine, it can be a difficult thing to have to fall out of. However, there are still ways you can exercise, such as going for a walk, setting up a mini home gym in your own house, or even joining virtual fitness classes. This way, you’ll still be able to stay physically fit while also staying safe at the same time. It’s important to also note that gyms will remain open. However, if you do decide to go to a gym, your workout routine should be done alone or one-on-one with a trainer (as long as you can safely physically distance.)

As we’re also seeing an increase in transmission of COVID-19 in workplaces, Dr. Henry also says that businesses need to take another look at their safety plans to ensure they are adequate and that things such as proper physical distancing, hygiene, and other measures are in place to keep their employees as safe as possible. In the event where business cannot meet these measures and ensure their employees (as well as customers) can remain safe, they need to consider going back to remote work – particularly for employees who may have underlying health issues and are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Examples of pre-existing conditions that put one at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 include things like diabetes, respiratory disease (such as asthma and COPD), heart disease, and high blood pressure, just to name a few. Dr. Henry also noted that there will be an increase in workplace inspections carried out by WorkSafe BC.

Lastly, the new orders also apply to travel. While travel within British Columbia as well as to and from other provinces isn’t banned, any travel that is considered non-essential to and from the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions is strongly discouraged and should therefore be limited to essential travel only.

For complete and up-to-date information on current orders, notices and guidance, in addition to other health sector resources, visit gov.bc.ca.