British Columbia is about to enter Phase 2 of the official “restart” plan which will allow some businesses to reopen or increase economic activity.
One of the biggest and most awaited aspects of the Phase 2, however, is increasing social interactions.
The initial guidelines released on May 6 tell us that people can expand their social bubbles to up to two to six people, but should stay home if they’re sick OR if someone in their household is elderly or immunocompromised.
The next day, faced with mounting questions on the exact parameters of how to interact with loved ones, Dr. Bonnie Henry clarified that it’s okay to hug people if you make them a part of your extended social circle.
She also cautioned people to be mindful that the contacts of those who they include in their social circle will also be linked by extension.
At the time, Dr. Henry used neighbourhood BBQs as an example of an activity that can be safely hosted this summer.
Today, she pointed out exactly how someone can throw a safe and successful BBQ party while the public health emergency remains in place, and partake in other activities over the summer.
Again, those who have elderly or immunocompromised people in their households should refrain from expanding social circles or taking part in any such activities as the risks for them are higher.
But for B.C. residents who are healthy and can safely socialize, Dr. Henry advises to host BBQs outside as transmission risks are always lower outdoors than indoors.
Hosts are also advised to offer individual food servings, instead of buffets, to minimize contact between guests.
Gatherings should also be kept within a small and consistent group. “Make a pact” with friends or neighbours and agree to be in each other’s circles.
“The fewer people you see, the better you will be,” added Dr. Henry, alongside her new COVID-19 reopening mantra of “smaller groups, fewer faces, shorter time together, bigger spaces”.
Other types of gatherings
For public gatherings and social interactions this summer, there are two public health guidelines that will not change for a long time.
The first: anyone who is sick or has been around people that are sick are required to stay at home and away from others.
And, as mentioned in previous articles, the public health order banning gatherings of 50 or more people will remain in place this summer.
However, Dr. Henry cautions that groups smaller than 50 must also adhere to physical distancing guidelines. This applies to gatherings in general, but she pointed out religious institutions as an example.
“Starting next week, religious services can be held as long as people can maintain physical distance,” said Dr. Henry, going on to thank faith leaders for their cooperation and help in coming up with creative ways to continue hosting religious ceremonies virtually during the pandemic.
This particular public health order does not, however, apply to large retail and department stores that can safely fit more than 50 people at one time, as long as they continue implementing a policy that allows room for maintaining appropriate distances between people.
For individuals, particularly young people, planning to get together at restaurants and bars once those businesses reopen, Dr. Henry advises not to share things like drinks and fries.
She again emphasizes the benefits of spending time outside rather than indoors, and those who choose to gather inside are asked to keep their distances and keep contacts at a minimum.
Dating and travel
Earlier this week, Dr. Henry was also asked about dating and how single people can expect to resume their romantic pursuits once we enter Phase 2.
After an amusing moment of B.C.’s top doctor struggling to find the right words to describe the dating lives of young people in the 21st century, she stated that “online encounters” — presumably referring to dating apps like Tinder and Bumble — have been useful thus far in keeping loneliness at bay.
“This is not the time to do rapid serial dating,” she added, advising people to “pick someone and see if it works out.”
At today’s briefing, she added that no one should be hugging or kissing people outside their immediate households and extended social circles they’ve chosen.
These guidelines for easing social activity to 60 per cent of normal will be applicable come May 19 when we enter Phase 2 of the province’s restart plan.
Before that date, many have voiced concerns about the amount of non-essential travel that may place over the upcoming Victoria Day long weekend.
“If you do not need to go somewhere, even if it’s a second home, the way we can help one another right now is not to engage in non-essential travel,” urged Health Minister Adrian Dix at Wednesday’s briefing.
However, he also cautioned British Columbians against judging those who do travel over the long weekend.
Dix added that those who do choose to go to their second homes in small communities over the long weekend should bring their own food and supplies so as not to overwhelm stores in remote areas.
Similar concerns were raised after last weekend, when many people were seen flocking to beaches and parks to take in the gorgeous weather in places like Victoria and Vancouver.
“Most people are doing the right thing. They may be in a group but they’re keeping their distance,” said Dr. Henry, addressing those concerns.
Those who did break the rules and decided to gather in large groups were called the “visible minority” by Minister Dix.