Outdoor religious services now permitted, as B.C. records 682 new COVID-19 cases and 1 more death

·3 min read
A traveller fills out a form while waiting to enter a government-authorized COVID-19 quarantine hotel in Richmond, B.C. on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A traveller fills out a form while waiting to enter a government-authorized COVID-19 quarantine hotel in Richmond, B.C. on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The restrictions on religious gatherings in B.C. are loosening, health officials announced Tuesday, as they released the latest numbers showing that many COVID-19 trend lines continue to head in the wrong direction.

In a written statement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that a public health order banning gatherings and events has been amended to allow outdoor religious gatherings, as long as COVID-19 safety plans are in place.

Tuesday's daily update included 682 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death. There are now 314 people in hospital with the disease — the highest total since Jan. 25 — including 83 who are in intensive care.

The latest numbers mean that the seven-day rolling average of new cases has hit 617, the highest since Dec. 20.

"While we are immunizing more people every day, and in parallel slowly turning the dial on the restrictions we have in place, we must remember the risk for all of us remains high, particularly with indoor activities — whether for work or social reasons," Henry and Dix said.

There are currently 5,409 active cases of coronavirus in the province, the highest total since Jan. 9. Public health is now monitoring 9,488 people across B.C. who are in self-isolation because of COVID-19 exposure.

A total of 86,307 people who tested positive for the virus have recovered, while 1,438 people in B.C. have lost their lives because of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

B.C. has recorded no new outbreaks in health-care facilities, and outbreaks at Revera Sunwood Retirement Community in Maple Ridge and the Brucejack Mine have been declared over.

So far, 557,508 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, with 87,168 of those being second doses.

Vaccination slots opening for the medically vulnerable

On Tuesday, the province provided more details on how people who are "clinically extremely vulnerable" can receive a vaccine in the coming weeks.

Those who are at higher risk of COVID-19 because of medical conditions will be able to register for immunization beginning March 29. People who qualify include transplant recipients, people with severe respiratory conditions and some cancer patients.

"For many, knowing that COVID-19 would compound what are already serious illnesses has created added challenge and stress — concerns that will soon be relieved," Henry and Dix said.

About 200,000 people over the age of 16 will be included in this group, according to a government news release. A group of medical experts has worked with public health to draft a list, and those who qualify can expect to receive a letter in the mail with information on how to book an appointment.

Anyone who believes they should qualify and hasn't received a letter by April 15 should call the provincial call centre or visit a yet-to-be launched online site for booking vaccination appointments, the government says.

Meanwhile, B.C.'s accelerated vaccination progress means that as of Wednesday, people born in 1945 will be able to book their first shot.

On Monday, Henry expressed concern about the rising number of cases but did not give a clear answer as to whether B.C. is experiencing a third wave of the pandemic.

"People ask if we're in our third wave," she said. "We've come down from the peak of our second wave but we have levelled out for many weeks now and it's a slow and steady increase."

Henry urged everyone to make sure any gatherings are held outdoors, in physically distanced groups of 10 or fewer.

Dix stressed that while the vaccines are helping, it's still not safe to resume normal life.

"Vaccines provide us with a great deal of hope, but orders are still in place," he said. "If you are thinking of going to a birthday celebration, do not go right now."

Henry and Dix said that no plans should be made for large gatherings like weddings for the near future and any such plans should be pushed to summer at the earliest.