By Steve Hubrecht
steve@columbiavalleypioneer.com

A spike in COVID-19 cases in B.C. has lead provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to announce sweeping new measures and restrictions to contain what is looming as the second wave of the pandemic in the province. Among the most prominent of the measures are mandatory medical masks in all indoor public spaces and commercial spaces in B.C. and restrictions on all social gatherings with anybody beyond people’s households.

These measures are effective right across the province, and Invermere mayor Al Miller said, obviously, that means masks are now mandatory here too. “We’re, of course, going to follow the provincial order,” Miller told the Pioneer.

“I know it doesn’t fit everybody’s agenda, that there are some naysayers out there on masks. I respect everybody’s right to their opinion, but in our public buildings in Invermere, we are now mandating masks,” said Miller. “It’s not a time to be blaming and arguing. We need to work together on this to get through this as quickly as possible.”

In terms of the mask mandate in retail spaces, Miller pointed out that the responsibility and authority to enforce the mask mandate in local businesses do not rest with the district of Invermere. “The order is a provincial order, so it’s up to the retailer or commercial entities to respect and follow the order,” he said.

The order outlines that, in some cases, police and other compliance officers can enforce provincial orders, and that employers are expected to enforce the mandatory mask policy with both their staff and their customers.

Miller added that the pandemic has been tough on people, and implored Invermere residents to do their best to push forward in as positive a manner as possible.

“We’ve been in the COVID-19 situation for about eight months now and I’ve seen a lot of emotion from people. Some people are having a really hard time with this, including some really strong people. I’m asking people to be kind, to be caring. That’s what we need right now,” he said.

Dr. Henry announced the measures — which are not yet a full-scale lockdown like the one recently put in place in Toronto — on Thursday, Nov. 19, as COVID-19 numbers in the province spiked to 6,929 active cases, the highest number B.C. has seen so far.

The no-social-gathering restriction means people are not allowed to meet with anybody outside of their immediate household for any social reason whatsoever. This means not inviting any extended family or friends into your house, not having any gatherings in your backyard (even if it is possible to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres between people in your backyard), not having any outdoor gatherings, and not arranging playdates for your kids in parks and other public outdoor areas.

Dr. Henry outlined that it would still be okay for grandparents, for instance, to pick up kids from school or look after kids if parents cannot due to work commitments, for parents to carpool kids to school, for contractors to do work in people’s homes, and for people to go for a walk with a friend so long as physical distance of at least two metres is maintained for the whole walk.

She also said people who live completely alone may continue to regularly meet with a ‘core bubble’ of a maximum of two people, that may be partners, relatives, friends, or co-parents, who live in a different household.

The mask mandate applies to all indoor public spaces, retail spaces, commercial spaces, common workplaces, restaurants, bars and pubs, but not to schools.

Officials also announced a travel advisory, asking people to avoid all non-essential travel and stay within their local health region. This means no travel in or out of B.C. and also means no travel within different regions of B.C., except for essential reasons. Essential travel was defined as regular travel for work within your region or travelling for things such as medical appointments and hospital visits. Travelling for vacations or to visit friends and family outside your household or outside your core bubble is explicitly defined as non-essential.

The advisory specifically addressed mountain sports, saying not to travel to participate in mountain sports, instead recommending “ski or snowboard at your local mountain.”

Addressing out-of-province visitors, the advisory read “at this time, people travelling to B.C. from another province or territory within Canada should only come for essential reasons.”

All indoor and outdoor community and social events of any kinds are suspended, even if less than 50 people are attending. All in-person (i.e. non-digital) faith services are suspended. No spectators are allowed at sporting events, and nobody is allowed to travel outside their community for a sporting event. Indoor group fitness activities, including hot yoga, spin classes and high intensity interval training are suspended, although dance lessons, martial arts, and cheerleading may go ahead with new updated safety protocols and guidelines. Gyms and fitness centres offering individual (as opposed to group) fitness training may stay open with new updated safety protocols and guidelines.

Weddings, funerals and baptisms can go ahead, with no more than 10 people, including officiants, but no receptions associated with these events are allowed. Employers have been asked to suspend any returns-to-office for employees who have been working from home. Medical group meetings and support group meetings, including addictions services, meeting, are still allowed, with pandemic protocols in place. Municipal council meetings and business meetings are still allowed to go ahead, provided COVID-19 protocols are in place.