B.C. imposing regional COVID-19 restrictions for Northern Health as cases surge
The B.C. government has announced new regional COVID-19 restrictions for the province's north, which has been experiencing a major surge in cases.
The measures include new limits for personal gatherings and new requirements for organized gatherings across the Northern Health region, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday.
"Sadly, we're seeing some transmission that has taken off in a number of communities where we have pockets of people who are unvaccinated," Henry said.
"This has really exploded quite quickly."
Those communities include the Nechako, Fort St. James and Vanderhoof areas, officials said. Much of the spread has taken place at social events.
To get case numbers under control, indoor personal gatherings will be limited to five guests or one additional family, and outdoor personal gatherings will be limited to 50 guests "with additional safety measures in place," Henry said.
Organized indoor events require a COVID-19 safety plan, as do outdoor organized events with more than 200 people. Sporting events with spectators also require a safety plan, whether indoors or outdoors.
The new measures are scheduled to take effect on Tuesday, Sept. 7, giving Northern Health residents a few days to prepare. In the meantime, Henry suggested anyone planning get-togethers over the Labour Day long weekend consider taking extra precautions, such as limiting guests to people who are vaccinated.
On Sept. 10 and 11, country music fans are expected to flock to Prince George for the Best Damn Music Festival, an outdoor event with several scheduled performances. Health officials said they have been in contact with the organizers, and that it should be able to continue provided they can implement the appropriate safety measures.
The north's recent surge in cases has been largely blamed on the highly contagious Delta COVID-19 variant spreading among the unimmunized, who have been filling up hospitals in the region.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the sudden influx of patients has created "very significant challenges" at a number of local hospitals, including the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia.
According to age-adjusted modelling data presented earlier this week, people who haven't been vaccinated against COVID-19 are 12 times likelier to get the disease than those who are fully immunized, and 34 times more likely to need hospitalization.
"The vast majority of patients in ICU in Northern Health today are unvaccinated," said Dix. "This is largely now a pandemic of the unvaccinated."
Health officials said they're targeting the latest measures in areas where they're seeing transmission. That doesn't include restaurants or gyms, which are not going to be under any additional restrictions, as they are in the Central Okanagan.
The Interior Health region was the first area of B.C. to see local restrictions imposed after the province entered its phased restart plan, and they remain in place as officials strive to increase vaccination rates.
Beginning on Sept. 13, the government is imposing a vaccine passport system that will require people to provide proof of their immunization status to access a number of non-essential services and events.