Fraser Health’s top doctors have strongly recommended that those living in the region refrain from hosting gatherings of any kind in their homes in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The recommendation goes one step further than an order provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued on Monday limiting gatherings in private residences to the household members plus six others within the household’s bubble.
The Fraser Health Authority , which is the most populous in B.C. and covers an area that spans from Burnaby to Hope, has seen its case numbers increase rapidly, with many linked to social gatherings such as weddings, celebrations of life, and holidays.
“We are emphasizing this point because we know Halloween is coming up on Saturday night, and it’s tempting to have gatherings or parties,” said Fraser Health president and CEO Dr. Victoria Lee. “We’re urging our communities not to do this at this time. Please follow public health guidelines and measures and stay home with your household.”
Trick-or-treating isn’t a problem if everyone maintains physical distance from those who are not part of their household, she added.
The health authority will monitor case counts and what happens on Halloween, and decide whether additional measures need to be imposed.
Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, Fraser Health’s chief medical health officer, said it is still possible to hold small gatherings safely in public venues, such as restaurants, that have COVID safety plans in place and allow for physical distancing.
“Where we are seeing a problem is with gatherings, particularly large celebratory gatherings, in private residences, and we are asking people not to hold those at this time to allow us to flatten the curve back down again,” Brodkin said.
Over the weekend, B.C. saw a record 817 cases of COVID-19 over three days, 665 of which were in Fraser Health. On Tuesday, there were 217 more cases — 145 in Fraser Health .
Brodkin said the Fraser Health region is a hotspot in part because it is so large, covering 20 communities and more than 1.8 million people. It also has the highest population density, including a number of multi-generational households, which she called “part of the fabric of our community.”
“As you increase population, and particularly as you increase population density, you make it easier for the virus to circulate and spread, and we’re seeing the impact of that in Fraser Health,” said Brodkin.
Caroline Colijn, an infectious disease modeller and mathematics professor at Simon Fraser University, said while Fraser Health is the focus right now, the virus spreads wherever people congregate, and everyone should be careful to follow guidelines no matter where they live.
“I’m not sure there’s something special about Fraser Health,” Colijn said. “This virus is going to happen where it happens and it will never be completely uniformly distributed across every borough in every community in every household. It’ll be outbreaks and transmission clusters in social groups that are getting together.”
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said he is not shocked to hear about the increases in the Fraser Valley because he has had a sense over the last couple of months that people are letting down their guard. It might have been a sense of complacency about how well the province did over the summer, or just frustration and fatigue when it comes to complying with guidelines and protocols.
He said this is a good reminder to wash our hands, keep our distance, and wear a mask.
“We all have to rely on one another to do our part, and if we did that we could turn these numbers around in a real quick hurry,” Braun said. “So wherever I go, I just remind people let’s use our COVID sense and follow the directions of Dr. Bonnie Henry.”
Braun encourages residents who see large gatherings taking place to report it to the city or the police. “It’s like everything else — when you see something, say something.”
Brodkin said enforcement is typically carried out by municipal bylaw officers and local police forces, and there are fines in place that can be issued to individuals and organizers of large events that don’t meet safety guidelines. Those fines are $2,000 for an organizer and $200 for individuals who don’t follow officers’ directions, plus a victim surcharge.