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Long weekend presents opportunity as B.C. works to re-flatten COVID-19 curve

Last Updated Jul 31, 2020 at 7:35 am PDT

FILE - People sit and lie in the sun at Kitsilano Beach Park in Vancouver, on Saturday, May 9, 2020. As bars, restaurants and house parties continue to play significant roles in spreading COVID-19, some infectious disease experts in Canada think it's time to offer a safer alternative to drinking in public. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Health experts urge British Columbians to be safe this weekend after Kelowna outbreak forced hundreds to self-isolate

Expert says it's unrealistic to tell people not to get together over long weekend, touts 'harm-reduction' model

Doctor says it's up to everyone -- individuals, businesses, others -- to help B.C. re-flatten the curve

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As B.C.’s COVID-19 case numbers tick upward again and we head into another long weekend, a warning from a pair of leading medical professionals: play smart and play small.

It comes on the heels of a spike in coronavirus cases in B.C. following the previous long weekend over Canada Day.

Saying lessons could — and probably should — have been learned, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry specifically pointed to parties in Kelowna which led to an increase in COVID-19 cases in B.C.’s interior and other parts of the province, suggesting we need to be a bit smarter this time around.

Echoing that sentiment, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a leading infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, says we aren’t going to stop people from coming together and that the best approach is a harm-reduction model.

“We certainly have to be responsible, especially over the course of this long weekend. Everyone wants to go and enjoy themselves, and I think they can, they can do so in a safe manner,” he tells NEWS 1130. “This means really, still, adhering to our fundamental public health principles of physical distancing, hand hygiene, and putting on a mask in an indoor setting.

“You can still do that and have a good time,” he adds.

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Bogosh believes it’s unrealistic to “tell people not to get together and not to have a good time,” saying people are going to do it regardless.

That’s why he says it’s important to acknowledge it’s going to happen in order to help people celebrate the long weekend “in the safest manner possible.”

People are encouraged to meet up outdoors rather than in confined spaces, not “cluster” in large crowds, and continue to follow guidelines, which he says everyone should know by now.

While Bogosh warns individuals that they have to do their part to flatten the curve, he says businesses have to keep up their end, too.

That means avoiding the temptation of breaking the rules to try to cash-in on groups looking to let their hair down a bit this long weekend.

“If there are restaurants or bars that are open, they really have a responsibility to their employees and to their customers to ensure a safe experience,” he explains. “Everyone’s got a job to do. If we all do our job, we’ll do just fine.”

As a result of the exposure during the Canada Day long weekend in Kelowna, more than 70 cases of COVID-19 were recorded and more than 1,000 people were forced to self-isolate.

Henry urged British Columbians to make the upcoming long weekend “a different one than what we saw in early July,” adding everyone’s responsible for socializing safely.

“The actions you take do make a difference and we have seen that in the last few weeks, what you do this weekend will determine how we are going to be able to manage in the weeks and months ahead,” she said Thursday.

Meanwhile, concerns are rising in Vancouver with word of a planned party at Third Beach in Stanley Park this Friday night. Health officials have warned people not to gather in large groups, with Health Minister Adrian Dix saying people throwing these kinds of events need to be responsible.

“If there are events where everybody’s invited, of course, somebody at the event needs to take the responsibility of identifying and writing down everyone who’s at the event. I think this weekend, we can do this,” he said on Thursday.

People planning to attend Vancouver beach party ‘need to give their head a shake’: Dix

Any outbreaks can set us back, Bogosh tells NEWS 1130, stressing the need for everyone to step up.

“This is not over yet, it’s far from over. And while Canada currently is doing very well from coast to coast, we are seeing some outbreaks and an uptick in cases, particularly in British Columbia and Alberta,” Bogosh says. “The key thing here is quelling those current outbreaks. Also, preventing further outbreaks.”

He notes the ability to rapidly identify outbreaks is also important to prevent the situation from “snowballing” into larger outbreaks.

“What do you say, it’s a long weekend. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I think people are going to get together. If they do so responsibly, we’ll be OK.”