Health officials have asked British Columbians to limit their social interactions this weekend after sharing new COVID-19 modelling that suggests the province is at a "precipice."
The data presented by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday indicates B.C. residents need to reduce their interpersonal connections to 50 per cent of normal to bend the province's epidemiological curve back down.
Officials estimate the public is currently hovering around 65 to 70 per cent of the connections they had before the pandemic.
"We're at that limit – we're at that precipice, if you will – where we need to take the actions to ensure that we can move forward in the fall and keep our curve low," Henry said.
Officials went so far as to recommend people stay within their household bubble – the same groups B.C. residents bunkered down with during the early months of the crisis – at least for the Labour Day long weekend.
"This weekend in particular, choose to go small. Choose to spend time with your household bubble instead of a group of strangers," Henry said. "Let's make sure this Labour Day long weekend, we are united in a singular focus to continue to stop those chains of transmission and bring our curve back down."
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While B.C. has seen a concerning surge in cases since early July, the latest modelling shows the province's number of COVID-19 cases and deaths per million residents remains low compared to many countries and several other Canadian provinces, including Quebec, Ontario and Alberta.
And while there are more cases identified per day on average than there were back in March, Henry said there are probably fewer cases going undetected in the community thanks to increased testing.
"Even though we have higher numbers of cases, we are finding and testing more people than we were in March who had this illness, so we don't believe the number of people who are out there who aren't detected is as high as it was when our testing was limited," she said.
B.C. has tested 363,918 specimens since the start of the pandemic, including 28,025 last week alone.
Henry noted that only 2.1 per cent of the tests conducted from Aug. 23 to 29 came back positive, indicating most of the people who suffer cold symptoms are not infected with the coronavirus. People are still urged to get tested if they feel sick, and can determine whether they require a test using the province's online self-assessment tool.
With young people returning to school this month, and many people returning to their jobs, health officials asked British Columbians to rethink the size of their bubbles. That's especially important for families that have face-to-face contact with older relatives, who are more vulnerable to the most severe symptoms of COVID-19.
"If you're returning to work, then you need to reduce your contacts in other areas. We need to find that personal balance, and that will mean sacrifice for some of us in some areas of our life," Henry said.
Crucially, the government said people need to avoid high-risk behaviours like mingling with strangers. Part of the modelling shed light on where transmission is happening now compared to in the early months of the pandemic.
Prior to May 19, most infections happened in households, health-care facilities and workplaces. By late June, there was significantly more transmission in private parties, restaurants, bars and in the community.
"These are not exact, but what they do tell us is there's no single measure that can make a difference in all of these settings," Henry said.
Officials stressed that people have to continue following the precautions that are proven to work, and which helped B.C. tame its first wave of the pandemic. That means washing hands regularly, not touching your face, keeping your bubble small and consistent, maintaining distance from others when it's possible, and wearing a mask when it's not.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix urged people to use the long weekend to "recommit" to the effort to stop the spread of the virus – and to buckle in for the long haul.
"We know that he COVID-19 pandemic will be with us not just for months to come but in the year to come – and indeed perhaps in the years to come," he said. "We have to continue to be all in."