Health officials close nightclubs and bars, placing limits on gatherings in central Okanagan, B.C.
British Columbia officials on Friday reinstated a number of public health orders for the central Okanagan region, closing nightclubs, limiting restaurant meals and restricting the size of social gatherings until new order, as the delta variant causes the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Nightclubs and bars will be closed from Friday, while alcohol cuts in restaurants will be at 10 p.m. PT. Limits on the number of people allowed to assemble apply both indoors and outdoors from Monday.
People planning to travel to the central Okanagan should try to cancel or postpone, officials said. Anyone who is not vaccinated, in particular, should avoid the area.
“This is obviously not where we want us to be right now, and we know, however, that we can have a huge impact in slowing this virus,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, at a press conference on Friday.
The latest wave of cases in British Columbia is concentrated in the Interior Health Region, with the “vast majority” in the central Okanagan. The region includes Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and Rutland.
Gatherings in the central Okanagan will be limited as follows, starting Monday:
- Outdoor gatherings, such as birthdays or backyard barbecues – maximum 50 people.
- Personal gatherings indoors – maximum five people or one additional household.
- Indoor / outdoor organized and seated gatherings, such as weddings – maximum 50 people.
- Vacation rentals, such as houseboats or Airbnbs: Maximum of five people in addition to occupants.
A mask warrant imposed last week in an attempt to slow the spread remains in place. High-intensity indoor fitness classes are canceled, but low-intensity workouts in fitness centers are still permitted.
Henry acknowledged that some big events, like weddings, will already be booked for the weekend before the restrictions on gatherings resume on Monday. She said hosts need to take precautions seriously if they choose to move forward over the next three days.
“For the events scheduled for this weekend, we know we can’t change them immediately. What we need from you is to make sure you have security plans in place,” Henry said.
“As much as possible, non-immune people should not attend these events, whether it is a wedding, birthday party, or a formal organized event. People should wear masks, they should remain seated and follow the rules of physical distancing.
Henry said hosts should keep an accurate list of everyone attending their event for contact tracing purposes.
British Columbia’s workload concentrated in a tense interior
Nearly 60 percent of the new cases reported for the entire province on Friday were in the Interior Health Region.
Officials said the outbreak in the central Okanagan has tripled from around 300 cases to around 1,200 since last week. The highly transmissible delta variant accounts for 80 percent of cases.
Most of the patients are young people between the ages of 20 and 40 who have not been vaccinated or who have only received one injection.
“Most of the transmission events that we see happen at social gatherings, whether in vacation rentals, people getting together and having parties, in bars and nightclubs that we have seen,” said Henry.
Anyone who has traveled to the area recently is urged to watch for symptoms.
“We know there has now been transmission from people who have traveled to the central Okanagan and returned to different parts of the province,” Henry said.
The outbreak has also spread to the healthcare system at a time when resources are already strained due to aggressive forest fires, smoky skies and persistent heat in the region. “Dozens” of healthcare workers in acute care have been infected, officials say, and there are two new outbreaks in long-term care.
“It puts a strain on our health care system in the central Okanagan and throughout the interior, as we know Kelowna General [Hospital], for example, supports all health regions in the interior, ”said Henry.
The restrictions announced Friday apply to everyone in the central Okanagan, vaccinated and unvaccinated.
“Right now, as we see a lot of transmission of a highly transmissible virus, we need to take action to protect everyone,” Henry said.
About 95 percent of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in British Columbia as of Friday had not been vaccinated or had only received a single dose. None of the intensive care patients have been vaccinated, Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
British Columbians aged 12 and over who have not yet been immunized can register in three ways:
People can also be vaccinated at walk-in clinics across the province.