(Dr. Bonnie Henry/Photo by Colin Smith Takes Pics)

BC’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has extended lockdown orders that were originally issued for the Lower Mainland to apply to health authorities across the province until at least December 7.

For a little over two weeks, British Columbians are asked to only socialize with their immediate households or core bubbles — individuals like a partner or family member that lives in a different household — and delay social gatherings.

This order extension comes after a surge in COVID-19 cases across all health authorities, including on Vancouver Island. The high caseload has resulted in strains to the province’s health care system as outbreaks and exposures are now spilling over into hospitals, long term care facilities, and schools.

According to Dr. Bonnie Henry, these orders may need to be extended past December 7, depending on whether or not they work to curb transmission rates.

Here’s a breakdown of what this order means and which sectors they target:

Mask mandate

Dr. Henry has asked Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to issue a mandatory mask requirement for all staff and customers at indoor public and retail spaces, except in food service areas.

Masks must also be worn in shared common spaces inside workplaces, like elevators, hallways and other common areas.

The Provincial Health Officer said she personally believes wearing masks is an individual behaviour choice, but consultations with public and retail sectors led her to seek more explicit direction on mask use.

She says this order will support these sectors in being able to manage their worker safety and address customer issues.

Henry added that now is the time for employers to suspend efforts to get people back in the workplace and focus on supporting work from home arrangements as much as possible.

Community and religious gatherings

Until December 7, community-based social gatherings or events will be suspended, including those with less than 50 people in controlled settings.

This includes places of worship that are to have no in-person group services, as COVID-19 transmission has been detected in churches, gurdwaras, and temples.

Exceptions to these rules include time-limited events like baptisms, weddings and funerals. These exceptions can only have a maximum of 10 people in attendance, with no associated receptions or celebratory gatherings.

Sports and indoor group physical activities

Several types of indoor group physical activities have been suspended across B.C. after they were determined at high risk of transmission, until December 7.

These include high-intensity interval training, hot yoga classes, and group indoor spin class.

Public health officials are working to come up with advanced guidelines for all other indoor group fitness classes. Authorities will close down any studios where transmission events are detected.

COVID-19 transmission has also been detected before and after both indoor and outdoor sports events, during carpooling, on the bench, or among spectators.

As a result, the provincial health officer has ordered no spectators at any indoor or outdoor sporting events, and there is to be no travelling for sports outside of local communities.

Travel and businesses

The order includes a recommendation for British Columbians to curtail all unnecessary, non-essential travel, including for recreation or social activities.

People should stay as much as possible within their local communities for at least the next two weeks.

The order also focuses on businesses and worksites where COVID-19 safety guidelines are not being followed, leading to outbreaks. Transmission is occurring in businesses that range from food processing plants to banks, grocery stores to car dealerships, etc.

Henry said the province has created a Rapid Response Group with regional environmental health officers at the helm to increase proactive inspections of businesses.

These officers have the authority to fine or shut down businesses found to not be complying with their required safety regulations.

No changes to the following

There will be no changes to how schools operate across the province, as Henry says epidemiological data shows COVID-19 transmission is low in schools.

However, a deputy Provincial Health Officer has been tasked with establishing a team in the Lower Mainland to oversee and manage school exposures and outbreaks as quickly as possible.

There will be no changes to how restaurants operate as not much transmission is seen in restaurants that are following workplace safety guidelines.

In particular, there has been no transmission between staff and customers. Clusters in restaurants have usually occurred when staff members socialize with each other.

British Columbians can still visit restaurants as long as they do so with their household or small social circle of six or fewer people.

Personal service businesses like hair salons and nail salons will also be allowed to continue operating. Despite initial concerns, these businesses have been following rules and are not a source of outbreaks.

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