Who can I socialize with, and where? Your questions about B.C.'s latest COVID-19 restrictions answered

·6 min read

On Saturday, during a rare weekend appearance, B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced a series of new restrictions for residents of the Lower Mainland in a bid to slow the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.

The new orders focus on social gatherings, travel, indoor group exercise and workplaces. They aren't as sweeping as those introduced in March — they don't affect the entire province, many businesses can remain open, and students will still be attending class in person.

But they do represent the broadest restrictions B.C. residents have seen since the province began its gradual re-opening back in May.

Here's what we know so far as of Nov. 9.

Where do the new restrictions apply, and for how long will they be in place?

The new restrictions apply to residents of the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health authority regions, where cases of COVID-19 have surged in recent weeks. The communities of Bella Coola and the Central Coast are exempt.

The orders came into effect at 10 p.m. PT Saturday and will last for a two-week period, until Nov. 23 at noon PT.

What are the rules for social gatherings?

People living in the two affected health authority areas are now being told not to socialize with anyone outside of their immediate household.

While previous directives from health authorities had allowed people to socialize with a small group of people — referred to as your "safe six" — the new directives override that recommendation because of worrying levels of community spread.

Weddings and funerals can proceed — but only with people who live in the same household.

What is a household?

It may seem obvious, but the Provincial Health Authority has offered up a definition for those who still have questions.

A household is defined as a group of people who live in the same dwelling. If you have a rental suite in your home, the suite is a separate household. If you live in an apartment or house with roommates, you are all members of the same household.

A household could also include "people who are part of your regular routine, for example, a co-parent who lives outside the household."

According to Dix, a non-household member who provides childcare is permitted in the home, as well as service providers such as a plumber or refrigerator-repair person.

What about people who live alone?

Henry said people who live alone are allowed to maintain a bubble of "one to two people," acknowledging the rules are particularly difficult for those who don't have household members, or for couples who live apart. Those people could socialize with their bubble at home, at a restaurant, or outside.

People who live with others should not be socializing with people outside of their households at home, outside or in restaurants.

Dix said people living alone can visit people "within their family bubble" if they do not live in the same immediate household.

Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC
Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC

What about outdoor gatherings?

The province clarified on Sunday that the ban on gatherings from people outside your household includes outdoor gatherings and gatherings in restaurants.

People can still go on walks or bike rides with one person who is not from their immediate household, but "need to be vigilant that a walk doesn't turn into a group of people meeting outside" and must physically distance from one another during the activity.

Dix said Monday that while walking and cycling safely is OK, people are not permitted to gather together at all in private yards.

What are the new rules around travel?

Henry has strongly recommended that travel in and out of the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions be limited to essential travel only.

Dix said he advises people who do not live in either region not to travel to Metro Vancouver at this time, but if they must, to exercise caution.

What are the new rules around fitness facilities?

Businesses and recreation centres that operate indoor group physical activities have been told to suspend these activities. That includes spin classes, yoga, group fitness, dance classes, and other group indoor activities that increase respiratory rates.

Indoor sports where physical distancing cannot be maintained are also suspended. That includes boxing, martial arts, hockey, volleyball, and basketball.

Indoor group physical activities will be able to reopen once businesses have updated their COVID-19 safety plan and received approval from their local Medical Health Officer.

These rules do not apply to school-based sports programs. Gyms that do not operate group fitness, and where physical distancing can be maintained at all times, are able to remain open. Pools also remain open.

Are restaurants closing?

As a general rule, no. But restaurants are being asked to review their COVID-19 safety plans, and ensure that tables are spaced six feet apart, with seating limited to six people.

Restaurants that are unable to maintain these rules will be asked to return to a take-out only model.

What about other workplaces?

Henry said workplaces should be encouraging all those who are able to work from home to do so.

For people who must continue to go into their place of work, workplaces must ensure that all workers and customers maintain appropriate physical distance and wear masks when appropriate. Henry said extra care should be taken in small office spaces, break rooms and kitchens, as transmission of the virus has been noted in those spaces.

Party buses and limousines are ordered to stop operating immediately. For those businesses, Henry said restrictions could extend beyond two weeks.

What about religious gatherings?

The restrictions do not apply to religious gatherings, so long as physical distancing can be maintained, and gatherings remain under 50 people.

Why aren't schools closed?

Henry said that keeping schools open is a priority, and that schools are not currently a source of major transmission in the province.

But she has long said that community spread will be reflected in schools, which is why it's important to shut down environments where spread is being detected, notably private gatherings.

"We need to keep essential services and activities — from schools to workplaces — open and operating safely. And right now this is in jeopardy," she said in the Saturday press conference.

What triggered the new restrictions?

B.C.'s COVID-19 case count has ticked steadily upwards since the summer. But Henry and Dix said that the growth is now exponential, meaning the cases are increasing sharply over time rather than increasing in a linear, predictable way.

On Saturday the province reported 567 new cases of COVID-19 and one new death. There were 589 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, up from 425 on Thursday and 334 on Wednesday.

The majority of cases are concentrated in the Fraser Health region, but COVID-19 is spreading in every health region of the province.