VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Not even the two B.C. health authorities where new COVID-19-related restrictions came into effect Saturday seem able to agree on exactly what they mean.
A new provincial health order is in effect until Nov. 23 and it restricts social gatherings, travel, and indoor physical activities.
The goal is crystal clear, with skyrocketing cases people are being asked to drastically scale back contact with others.
“All individuals, places of work and businesses in the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley must significantly reduce their level of social interactions and travel,” the order says.
But many were left questioning what exactly they are being asked to do to achieve this goal.
The day after provincial health officials outlined new prohibitions, Vancouver Coastal Health posted on Twitter saying questions were pouring in, adding “we are seeking additional clarity.”
We understand there are questions about the Order announced by the Provincial Health Officer yesterday. We are seeking additional clarity and will provide updates to https://t.co/rgupCJ80oT as we receive them. Thank you for your patience.
— Vancouver Coastal Health (@VCHhealthcare) November 8, 2020
In response to questions from reporters and the public, B.C.’s Health Ministry did provide clarity but steered clear of laying out hard-and-fast rules.
Asked ministry of Health for clarification on @Fraserhealth & @VCHhealthcare social gathering ban.
This response clarifies (I think) a number of questions people have had.#bcpoli #covid19 @NEWS1130 pic.twitter.com/CxG2bsqHIL
— LizaYuzda (@LizaYuzda) November 8, 2020
An ‘immediate household’ can encompass only people who live together — with some exceptions, mostly for people who live alone.
Gatherings in restaurants are a no-go, but people who live together or otherwise constitute an “immediate household” can still go out for a bite.
Restaurants and bars remain open, something that comes as a relief to Ian Tostenson with the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association.
“Dr. Henry’s really happy with the restaurant industry,” he says. “She’s quite happy to see people go to restaurants which I think is great because our industry’s worked so hard at doing this right. People at home having social events, that’s the target here.”
Existing seating limits don’t allow for more than is people to dine together. Still, it’s not clear how or whether restaurant staff and operators are meant to make sure people dining together fit the criteria of being an “immediate household.”
Health authorities contradict each other on outdoor gatherings
When it comes to getting together outdoors, Vancouver Coastal Health says no new restrictions apply. This would mean that the previous 50-person cap on outdoor gatherings remains.
The Provincial Health Order in effect (dated Nov. 7) applies to social gatherings inside private residences, & receptions following weddings & funerals. All other outdoor gatherings can continue according to pre-existing Public Health guidelines & previous Orders.
— Vancouver Coastal Health (@VCHhealthcare) November 8, 2020
Fraser Health, on the other hand, says the ban on gathering with those outside of one’s household absolutely applies everywhere — including outdoors.
“Provincial health orders now in effect until November 23 require that residents of Fraser Health avoid gatherings of any kind with anyone outside of your immediate household,” the website reads.
New orders from the Provincial Health Officer are now in place. Right now, using your COVID sense means limiting your social interactions to your immediate household. Learn more: https://t.co/9t7DXXappd pic.twitter.com/qOcIh8slL7
— Fraser Health (@Fraserhealth) November 8, 2020
The Ministry of Health says the same as Fraser Health, mostly.
Getting together with someone who is not part of one’s immediate household for a walk is allowed, “but British Columbians need to be vigilant that a walk doesn’t turn into a group of people meeting outside.”
Minor Hockey League critical of ‘knee-jerk’ ban on games
The part of the new order that pertains to “group physical activities” lists a number of indoor sports and fitness classes that are explicitly forbidden.
- Spin classes
- Group fitness
- Dance classes
- Martial arts
This has resulted in thePacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association cancelling all games in the two affected health regions.
— PCAHA (@PCAHAMain) November 8, 2020
But Tom Oberti, president of the West Vancouver Minor Hockey Association, says in a league with 20,000 players that hasn’t seena single outbreak of COVID-19 .
“The decision to include Minor Hockey in the closure of indoor sports is not based on the facts: of how the sport is organized, how we’ve been putting into place protocols to safeguard our players, our children from the pandemic and most importantly that there has been no transmission of the virus within the environment of minor hockey in the Lower Mainland,” he says.
“It seems to be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to include a sport that has a track record of really not being a situation where the virus has been transmitted.”
In the wake of new public health orders, sports leagues in Metro Vancouver are now taking a two-week time out… @KierJunos reports on one Vancouver minor hockey league disappointed by the latest health measures.@BT_Vancouver @NEWS1130 pic.twitter.com/p03WArmYN3
— CityNews Vancouver (@CityNewsVAN) November 9, 2020
He emphasizes the league has no plan to challenge the order, and will fully comply while it is in effect.
“We’re respectful of the difficulty that the public health authorities have in making decisions, we just want to communicate the fact that it’s important to make decisions that are targeted,” he says, adding he worries about the move being discouraging.
“Parents, players, officials have been very diligent in following these protocols and this is league-wide. When they see that the efforts seem to be futil — in the sense that we have had success as a sport in not having transmission of the virus, and there seems to be an arbitrary shutdown of the sport — it does disincentivize a portion of the volunteer group to actually abide by the policies and protocols.”
City swimming pools still open, no Aquafit
The new order also orders the cancellation of “any other group indoor activity that increases the respiratory rate.”
viaSport, which has been releasing phased “Return to Play” guidelines said Saturday, “With respect to group indoor activities that increase the respiratory rate, we are working with government to clarify the Order’s impact”
After being bombarded with questions online, the Vancouver Park Board has clarified that lane-swimming is still allowed but any aquatic fitness classes will be cancelled.
Swimming activities will continue to be offered, with the exception of aquafit classes, which are considered a part of indoor group fitness.
— Vancouver Park Board (@ParkBoard) November 8, 2020
West Vancouver, Richmond, Delta, New Westminter, and Surrey have also kept pools open for lane swimming.
The Vancouver Park Board has also said that “indoor individual sports where physical distancing can be maintained can continue,” citing swim clubs and figure skating as two examples.
Provincial health officials will be giving a live update on COVID-19 Monday at 3 p.m.
With files from Liza Yuzda and Toby Kerr