B.C.'s top doctor says surge in COVID-19 cases could bring more restrictions

VICTORIA — British Columbia's provincial health officer says social gatherings like weddings are fuelling a surge in COVID-19 cases in the province.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said people are meeting in large numbers and with different groups over a number of days at some events and those returning to other parts of the province or the country are taking the virus with them.

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"Weddings and other celebrations are proving to be high risk for all of us," Henry said Thursday as she announced a one-day record of 274 cases, up from a high of 203 a day earlier.

"These events have caused clusters and outbreaks that have now spilled over into our health-care system," she said, adding community spread of the virus over the last two weeks has included the province's first outbreak at a school.

Henry said further measures aimed at preventing the transmission of COVID-19 may have to be imposed, including conditions on wedding licences.

"The reality is that everywhere in B.C., weddings, funerals and other life occasions need to be small, as small as possible. Every gathering needs to be our own household only and at maximum our safe six."

The province has had a total of 12,331 cases, while 10,114 of those infections are considered recovered.

An uptick in cases last summer due to spread from vacation rentals and parties in the Okanagan was brought under control when people restricted social gatherings and the same can be accomplished again, Henry said.

She suggested people getting married opt for civil ceremonies with a small number of guests and save the large party for next year.

"As hosts of the celebrations, I ask you not to invite others to your gathering right now and not to take offence if people choose not to come because they are concerned about their own safety or about the risk that they may be bringing with them," Henry said.

"As a guest, support your loved ones by choosing not to attend and by showing your support in other ways. The risk is too high for all of us and we have seen that in other jurisdictions both here in the Canada, in the United States and around the world."

Henry said the outbreak at the school in Kelowna involved students and staff, with spread related to students in different cohorts mixing together, as well as on school buses and in other settings.

The outbreak began with three cases and now involves five people in the school community, with 160 people isolating at home, she said.

There have been 213 exposures of COVID-19 at more than 2,000 schools in the province with 600,000 students and 35,000 teachers and staff, Henry said.

"While it's concerning that we have an outbreak, what I think is positive about this is that we have been monitoring all of the exposure events and we have had very little transmission in the schools."

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, said earlier Thursday that some gatherings including weddings are being reported to municipalities.

That may require the authority to have "further conversations" around bylaw officers enforcing measures aimed at reducing the spread of the pandemic, she said.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2020.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story a previous version said there were eight million people in the Fraser Health authority.

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